Longitudinal changes in FEV1 (delta FEV1) in relationship to smoking habits were examined in 1,705 adults enrolled in a prospective study of a general population sample. In both men and women, there were excessive rates of decline in FEV1 in smokers, at least in those smoking more than 10 cigarettes per day. The excess decline of smokers was age dependent, particularly in men, with much of the excess loss of function occurring between 50 and 70 yr of age. Effects of smoking on delta FEV1, observed minus expected delta FEV1 and observed minus expected percent delta FEV1, were greater in men than in women even when controlled for current cigarette dose. Ex-smokers show delta FEV1 values similar to those of nonsmokers. In subjects younger than 35 yr of age, quitting smoking during follow-up was associated with an actual increase in FEV1. In men 50 to 70 yr of age, smoking cessation early in the study appeared to lead to a relatively prompt return to normal rates of functional decline. Thus, the findings suggest relatively prompt beneficial effect of smoking cessation even in late middle age.