COPD continues to cause a heavy health and economic burden both in the United States and around the world. Some of the risk factors for COPD are well-known and include smoking, occupational exposures, air pollution, airway hyperresponsiveness, asthma, and certain genetic variations, although many questions, such as why < 20% of smokers develop significant airway obstruction, remain. Precise definitions of COPD vary and are frequently dependent on an accurate diagnosis of the problem by a physician. These differences in the definition of COPD can have large effects on the estimates of COPD in the population. Furthermore, evidence that COPD represents several different disease processes with potentially different interventions continues to emerge. In most of the world, COPD prevalence and mortality are still increasing and likely will continue to rise in response to increases in smoking, particularly by women and adolescents. Resources aimed at smoking cessation and prevention, COPD education and early detection, and better treatment will be of the most benefit in our continuing efforts against this important cause of morbidity and mortality.