Recent analyses based on UK data indicate that people who stop smoking, even well into middle age, avoid most of their subsequent risk of lung cancer. We investigated whether similar absolute risks of lung cancer in men are found in other European countries with different smoking patterns and at different stages of their lung cancer epidemic. Using data for men from a multicentre case-control study of lung cancer in the UK, Germany, Italy and Sweden, and including 6523 lung cancer cases and 9468 controls, we combined odds ratio estimates with estimates of national lung cancer incidence rates to calculate the cumulative risk of lung cancer among men by age 75. Lung cancer cumulative risks by age 75 among continuing smokers were similar for the UK, Germany and Italy at 15.7, 14.3 and 13.8% respectively, whereas the cumulative risk among Swedish male smokers was 6.6%. The proportion of the risk of lung cancer avoided by quitting smoking before the age of 40 was comparable between the four countries, at 80% in Italy and 91% in the UK, Germany and Sweden. Similarly, the proportion of the excess risk avoided by quitting before the age of 50 ranged from 57% in Italy to 69% in Germany. Our results support the important conclusion that for long-term smokers, giving up smoking in middle age avoids most of the subsequent risk of lung cancer, and that lung cancer mortality in European men over the next three decades will be determined by the extent to which current smokers can successfully quit smoking.