The Lung Health Study is a 10-center 5-year clinical trial sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to evaluate the effectiveness of early intervention in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The specific objectives of the trial are to determine whether the accelerated decline in lung function characteristic of COPD and morbidity due to COPD can be reduced by special intervention at a relatively early stage in the evolution of the disease. Special intervention consists of a smoking-cessation program and the use of an inhaled bronchodilator to suppress airway hyperreactivity. The use of the inhaler canister is monitored every 4 months by canister weighing and, at two of the 10 centers, by an electronic recording device, the Nebulizer Chronolog. Among trial participants assigned the latter device, results from the first 4 months of the study indicate that only 52% of trial participants who were uninformed as to the nature of the chronolog used their inhaler at least twice daily as measured by the chronolog, compared with 87% as determined by self-report. Satisfactory or good compliance was achieved by 52% of these subjects as measured by the chronolog compared with 85% as assessed by canister weighing. Eighteen percent of uninformed participants "dumped" their inhalers within a 3-hour time period, contributing to the inaccuracy of canister weights as an indicator of compliance. Feedback of information to the participants from the chronolog improved the level of compliance and eliminated the "dumping" phenomenon. We conclude that, when accurate determinations of compliance are important, as in a drug trial, objective medication monitors should be considered. Electronic monitoring of inhaler use can provide valuable feedback, which encourages improved compliance.