Aims To develop and validate a measure of smokers' expectancies for the abstinence process upon quitting smoking: the Smoking Abstinence Questionnaire (SAQ). Design Principal component analysis and other psychometric analyses of self-report data. Setting San Francisco, California. Participants A total of 507 adult smokers of at least 10 cigarettes per day diverse in gender, sexual orientation and ethnoracial status. Measurements The primary measure was a draft version of the SAQ. Additional measures assessed a variety of other smoking-related constructs. Findings Analyses yielded 10 scales of the SAQ: Withdrawal, Social Improvement/Non-smoker Identity, Adverse Outcomes, Treatment Effectiveness, Common Reasons, Barriers to Treatment, Social Support, Optimistic Outcomes, Coffee Use and Weight Gain. The SAQ scales demonstrated internal consistencies ranging from 0.62 to 0.85 and were associated with tobacco dependence, motivation to quit, abstinence self-efficacy, withdrawal symptoms, dietary restraint, shape and weight concern and tobacco use expectancies. The SAQ predicted smoking-related constructs above and beyond tobacco use expectancies, suggesting that abstinence-related expectancies and tobacco use expectancies are distinct from one another. Conclusions A newly developed questionnaire, the Smoking Abstinence Questionnaire, appears to capture reliably smokers' expectancies for abstinence (Withdrawal, Social Improvement/Non-smoker Identity, Adverse Outcomes, Common Reasons, Optimistic Outcomes, Coffee Use, and Weight Gain) and expectancies related to the success of a quit attempt (Treatment Effectiveness, Barriers to Treatment and Social Support). It remains to be seen how far any of these expectancies predict attempts to quit, withdrawal, treatment utilization and response and quitting success above and beyond existing measures. © 2011 The Authors, Addiction © 2011 Society for the Study of Addiction.