This study aimed to assess the role of active and passive smoking in the development of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Mailed questionnaires were completed by 1279 incident RCC cases and 5370 population controls between 1994 and 1997 in eight Canadian provinces. Data were collected on socio-economic status, smoking habits, diet and passive smoking status, as well as residential and occupational history. The study found an increased risk of RCC associated with active smoking. Elevated risk of RCC was also observed with passive smoking; compared with those never exposed to either passive or active smoking, men and women with 43 or more years of passive residential and/or occupational exposure had respective adjusted Odds Ratios (ORs) of 3.9 (95% Confidence Interval (CI) 1.4-10.6) and 1.8 (95% CI 1.0-3.3) (P=0.001 and P=0.09, respectively). Both active and passive smoking might play a role in the aetiology of RCC.