Little research has been conducted on health in Chinese communities in the UK and there are few representative data on smoking, alcohol consumption or other aspects of lifestyle. We undertook a cross sectional population-based study of 380 Chinese and 625 European men and women aged 25 to 64 y, using self-completion and interview questionnaires in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK between 1991 and 1995. We measured self-reported prevalence of cigarette smoking, number of cigarettes smoked per week and age at starting smoking; self-reported prevalence of alcohol consumption and units of alcohol consumed per week. In age-adjusted comparisons smoking was less common in Chinese (24%) than European men (35%) (P=0.00002) and among Chinese (1%) compared with European women (33%) (P<0.00001). Number of cigarettes smoked was similar among Chinese and European male smokers. Median age at starting smoking was higher among Chinese (18.5 y) compared with European men (15 y) (P=0.00001). Smoking was commonest in older Chinese and in younger Europeans. The prevalence of alcohol consumption was lower among Chinese (63%) than European men (93%) (P<0.00001) and among Chinese (29%) compared to European women (89%) (P<0.00001). Median alcohol consumption was significantly lower among Chinese (2 units/week) than European men (16 units/week) (P<0.00001), and among Chinese (1 unit/week) compared to European women (6 units/week) (P<0.00001). Among those who drank alcohol, Chinese men were less likely to drink above recommended limits than European men (1% vs 39%; P<0.00001). Chinese men and women currently have relatively favourable patterns of smoking compared to European adults in Newcastle. Average alcohol consumption among Chinese who drink is lower than among Europeans, and a substantial proportion of the Chinese population in Newcastle drink no alcohol. Patterns of health related behaviour should be tracked over time in ethnic minority populations to identify changes that pose risk to health and which deserve appropriate intervention.