Microsomal epoxide hydrolase participates in the metabolism of benzo[a]pyrene, an important carcinogen in tobacco smoke. Two relatively common polymorphisms of the microsomal epoxide hydrolase gene that influence enzyme activity have been described. An association between genetic variation in microsomal epoxide hydrolase and lung cancer risk has been reported in one of two studies of Caucasians. We examined the relation between these two polymorphisms and lung cancer risk among 337 incident cases and 700 population controls of African-American and Caucasian ethnicity enrolled in a case-control study in Los Angeles County. African-Americans, homozygous for the exon 3 variant allele conferring reduced activity, were at decreased risk of lung cancer (odds ratio (OR)=0.08, 95% CI 0.01-0.62). When data from both the exon 3 and exon 4 polymorphisms were combined into indices of predicted microsomal epoxide hydrolase activity, a decreased risk was seen among African-American subjects with very low predicted activity OR=0.10 (95% CI 0.01-0.83). No comparable association was seen among Caucasians. Although the three published results for Caucasians are somewhat variable, the association among African-Americans in these data provides some support for the hypothesis that genetically reduced microsomal epoxide hydrolase activity may be protective against lung cancer.