Death certificate reporting of chronic airways disease was examined during 13 years of follow-up in the Tucson Epidemiologic Study of Airways Obstructive Disease. The Tucson study population is a geographically clustered stratified random sample of white, non-Mexican-American households in Tucson, Arizona. The initial survey was performed in 1972-1973. Using clinical and physiologic criteria from nine surveys to define airways obstructive disease in the population, the authors compared death certificate reporting with these criteria as the underlying cause and as reported anywhere on the death certificate. Reporting was related to the degree of antemortem airways obstruction. Sex differences in reporting were also noted. Females showed greater rates of reporting at low levels of impairment while males showed greater reporting at high levels of impairment. When airways obstructive disease was not the underlying cause of death, the type of underlying cause was found to affect reporting of airways obstructive disease on the death certificate.