In a cross-sectional survey of 3 separate communities, we studied the white residents 7 year of age and older in order to determine the relation between cigarette smoking and lung function. We identified 2,817 nonsmokers, 664 ex-smokers, and 1,209 smokers who were further classified as light smokers (1 to 20 cigarettes per day) and heavy smokers (greater than 20 cigarettes per day). Residual lung function (observed-predicted) was examined in these groups for forced expiratory volume in one second (rFEV1) and for maximal expiratory flow rates at 50% and 25% of the vital capacity (rVmax50% and rVmax 25%). Mean residuals by sex, age, and smoking category were compared and revealed an increasing progression of lung function loss with advancing age in males and females in all smoking categories. These age-related trends were due primarily to the amount smoked by persons in each group. The age of onset of these abnormalities was found to be as early as the age group 15 to 24 yr. Abnormalities were greater in smokers than ex-smokers, even when the amount smoked was taken into account. This is suggested improvement in lung function after cessation of smoking. Men and women were found to experience the same relative degree of gain. Also, the contribution of the various smoking habits to lung function loss was assessed using regression analyses and accounted for no more than 15% of the variation of the residual lung function. Combinations of variables were found to explain only slightly more variation than a single variable. The two most important variables were duration of smoking and pack-years. Inhalation and use of filters were not significant. Although the same amount of variation explained by the smoking variables after accounting for age, height, weight, and sex was small, this variation accounted for almost all of the decrease, over age, in residual lung function for smokers and ex-smokers.