Although non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) has not been considered to be a smoking-related malignancy, recent investigations suggest otherwise. We evaluated this association in a cohort of 37,336 women, aged 55-69 years, who reported in a mailed questionnaire in 1986 information regarding smoking history as well as demographic, medical history and dietary factors. Cancer and mortality experience through 1996 was determined by linkage to the Iowa Cancer Registry and other databases; there were 200 incident cases of NHL during the 380,231 total person-years of follow-up. Compared to never smokers, former (age-adjusted RR = 1.0; 95% CI 0.8-1.5) and current smokers (age-adjusted RR = 1.0; 95% CI 0.7-1.5) were not at elevated risk of NHL, and there was no trend with pack-years smoked (Ptrend = 0.3). Multivariate adjustment for other NHL risk factors did not alter these findings. Age-adjusted analysis by NHL subtype revealed a suggestive positive association of smoking with follicular NHL [(RRformer = 1.3; 95% CI 0.6-2.8), (RRcurrent = 1.8; 95% CI 0.8-3.8)], which strengthened after multivariate adjustment [(RRformer = 1.6; 95% CI 0.7-3.4), (RRcurrent = 2.3; 95% CI 1.0-5.0)]; there was no association for diffuse or small cleaved-cell NHL. Our study findings, which are consistent with other recent investigations, suggest that smoking may be associated with an increased risk of follicular NHL.