Aim: To compare the concurrent and predictive validities of two subsets of DSM-IV criteria for nicotine dependence (tolerance and withdrawal; withdrawal; difficulty controlling use; and use despite harm) to the concurrent and predictive validity of the full DSM-IV criteria. Design: Analysis of baseline and outcome data from three randomized clinical trials of cigarette smoking treatment. Setting: San Francisco, California. Participants: Two samples of cigarette smokers (n = 810 and 322), differing with regard to baseline characteristics and treatment received, derived from three randomized clinical trials. Measurements: DSM-IV nicotine dependence criteria were measured at baseline with a computerized version of the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for DSM-IV (DIS-IV). Additional baseline measures included the Fagerström Test of Nicotine Dependence (FTND), number of cigarettes smoked per day, breath carbon monoxide (CO) level, the Minnesota Nicotine Withdrawal Scale (MNWS), the Michigan Nicotine Reinforcement Questionnaire (M-NRQ) and the Profile of Mood States (POMS). Seven-day point-prevalence abstinence was assessed at week 12. Findings: Full DSM-IV criteria displayed greater concurrent validity than either of the two subsets of criteria. However, DSM-IV symptoms accounted for only a nominal amount of the variance in baseline smoking-related characteristics and were unrelated to smoking abstinence at week 12. Cigarettes smoked per day was the only significant predictor of abstinence at week 12. Conclusions: Although the findings do not provide a compelling alternative to the full set of DSM-IV nicotine dependence criteria, its poor psychometric properties and low predictive power limit its clinical and research utility. © 2008 The Authors.