A case-control study of risk factors for community-acquired pneumonia in adults admitted to hospital is reported. Cases were surviving patients (n = 178) admitted to 14 hospitals in England. Controls were individuals (n = 385) randomly selected from the electoral registers of the areas served by the hospitals. The two groups were compared with regard to risk factors for pneumonia using a standardized postal questionnaire. Independent risk factors associated with cases in log-linear regression analysis were age, heart disease (as indicated by congestive heart failure and/or digitalis treatment), lifetime smoking history, chronic airway disease (chronic bronchitis and/or asthma), occupational dust exposure, pneumonia as a child, single marital status and unemployment. Corticosteroid and bronchodilator therapy were also independent risk factors in the log-linear regression analysis, but may reflect the severity of underlying lung disease for which these drugs were prescribed. These data suggest that cigarette smoking is the major avoidable risk factor for acute pneumonia in adults.