The objective of this study was to compile information from published scientific literature about health care costs attributable to tobacco consumption and evaluate the different methodological strategies used in calculating estimations. Sources included MedLINE, bibliographical references from books published by the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the Panamerican Health Organization, the Interdisciplinary Health Research Group of Canada, as well as technical documentation used by the state of Minnesota, United States of America, in litigation against the tobacco industry. All of the studies published about this issue over the last 25 years or more were included. Information was obtained with respect to the study population, the cost perspective, the type of analysis used for estimating health care costs and methodology for attributing costs to tobacco consumption. In addition, comments with regard to the relevant findings and the limitations of each of the studies were added. Annual health care costs attributable to tobacco use vary between 6 and 14% of personal health expenses. In the period between the first publication and today, progress has been seen in the methodology used for calculating estimations, not only from the epidemiological perspective which improves the accuracy of the attribution of costs to risk factors, but from the economic perspective which broadens the estimation of costs from a social perspective. It is concluded that tobacco consumption leads to high health care costs, involves a cost to employers due to productivity losses and worker disability, and represents a high social cost resulting from the occurrence of premature deaths in the society.