In recent years, tobacco research has become an increasingly politicized field, with ‘legitimate’ research on this topic expected to further the goals of tobacco control. This paper presents an overview of the state of field of social science studies on tobacco and critiques the growing polarity evident in scholarship on this topic. Moving beyond mainstream public health perspectives, I outline a body of research that challenges dominant understandings of tobacco use and tobacco control. This research can be classified into three main categories: studies that interrogate conceptions of why people smoke, those that examine the impacts of tobacco control policy on smokers, and studies embracing intellectual and philosophical perspectives (especially phenomenology and social constructionism) that place them outside of a public health frame. I end with a broader discussion of the growing instrumentalization of social science research and the need to resist prescriptions that seek to dictate the appropriate form and content of scholarly work.