The relation between ventilatory function and the reported frequency of consumption of fresh fruit and fruit juice was studied among 1502 lifelong non-smokers and 1357 current smokers aged 18-69 with no history of chronic respiratory disease. Forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) was assessed by turbine spirometry. As winter fruit consumption was more widely dispersed than summer consumption and few subjects ate fruit more frequently in the winter, winter fruit consumption was taken as an indicator of habitual (year round) consumption. After adjustment for sex, age, height, cigarette consumption, region of residence, and household socioeconomic group, FEV1 was associated with winter fruit consumption. The mean adjusted FEV1 among those who never drank fresh fruit juice and ate fresh fruit less than once a week during the winter was 78 ml lower (95% confidence interval 24-132 ml) than the mean for the other subjects. A similar difference was found in all age-sex groups and among both current smokers and lifelong non-smokers. Antioxidant and other actions of vitamin C may protect against pulmonary emphysema, or reduce bronchoconstrictor responses to environmental pollutants.