It has been hypothesized that omega-3 fatty acid consumption may lessen the adverse effect of smoking on coronary heart disease (CHD) risk. Thus, we explored whether cod liver oil consumption was protective of coronary heart disease in a cohort of men and women participating in a cardiovascular disease screening in Norway. The study population was aged 35-54 at the time of the baseline screening conducted by the National Health Screening Service of Norway in 1977-1983. Of 56,718 age-eligible men and women, 52,138 participated, of whom 42,612 (82%) completed a dietary questionnaire. Cod liver oil use was reported by 12.5%. At baseline, cod liver oil users had lower triglycerides, adjusting for age, body mass index, time since last meal and income (p < or = .05). As of December 1992, 639 and 118 CHD deaths were observed among the men and women, respectively. Overall, we observed no effect of cod liver oil consumption reported at baseline and CHD mortality in Cox Proportional Hazards analyses [Hazard Ratio (HR) = 1.0 (0.8-1.3)]. In analyses, stratified by smoking status, never smokers and current smokers showed non-significant beneficial associations between cod liver oil use and CHD mortality (HR = 0.7, 95% CI = 0.4-1.5; and HR = 0.8, 95% CI = 0.6-1.2, respectively). However, among former smokers a non-significant excess risk of CHD mortality was associated with cod liver oil use (HR = 1.6, 95% CI = 0.9-2.6). Smokers, regardless of their cod liver oil use were at a substantially higher risk for CHD mortality relative to non-smokers. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, as practiced in this cohort, provided no significant benefits to CHD risk among study participants.