The aim of this study was to compare alcohol and smoking as risk factors in the development of chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. We considered only male subjects: (1) 630 patients with chronic pancreatitis who developed 12 pancreatic and 47 extrapancreatic cancers; (2) 69 patients with histologically well documented pancreatic cancer and no clinical history of chronic pancreatitis; and (3) 700 random controls taken from the Verona polling list and submitted to a complete medical check-up. Chronic pancreatitis subjects drink more than control subjects and more than subjects with pancreatic cancer without chronic pancreatitis (P<0.001). The percentage of smokers in the group with chronic pancreatitis is significantly higher than that in the control group [odds ratio (OR) 17.3; 95% CI 12.6-23.8; P<0.001] and in the group with pancreatic carcinomas but with no history of chronic pancreatitis (OR 5.3; 95% CI 3.0-9.4; P<0.001). In conclusion, our study shows that: (1) the risk of chronic pancreatitis correlates both with alcohol intake and with cigarette smoking with a trend indicating that the risk increases with increased alcohol intake and cigarette consumption; (2) alcohol and smoking are statistically independent risk factors for chronic pancreatitis; and (3) the risk of pancreatic cancer correlates positively with cigarette smoking but not with drinking.