The cardiovascular effects of smoking, including the occurrence of ventricular arrhythmias, were examined in 52 patients with ischemic heart disease. The study was a randomized, crossover comparison between smoking six cigarettes and nonsmoking with observer-blinded primary outcome measurements. Continuous Holter ECG recording for four hours showed no significant differences in the proportion of patients experiencing ventricular ectopy or the total number and complexity of ventricular premature beats during smoking vs nonsmoking. Aside from the first cigarette, smoking did not significantly alter blood pressure or heart rate. Mean (+/- SEM) plasma epinephrine (pg/ml) increased (p = 0.02) from baseline (52 +/- 4) to a maximum of 64 +/- 6 at 240 minutes with younger subjects exhibiting a more marked rise (p = 0.02) than subjects over 55 years of age. Plasma norepinephrine was unchanged by smoking. A power calculation confirmed the conclusion that the resumption of smoking after overnight abstention does not acutely increase the occurrence of ventricular ectopic activity in patients with ischemic heart disease.