Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Smoking has been implicated as one of the most important extrinsic risk factors for its development and severity. Recent developments have shed light on the pathophysiology of RA in smokers, including oxidative stress, inflammation, autoantibody formation and epigenetic changes. The association of smoking and the development of RA have been demonstrated through epidemiologic studies, as well as through in vivo and animal models of RA. With increased use of biological agents in addition to standard disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), there has been interest in how smoking affects drug response in RA treatment. Recent evidence suggests the response and drug survival in people treated with anti-tumour necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapy is poorer in heavy smokers, and possible immunological mechanisms for this effect are presented in the current paper.