In a prospective epidemiological study from 1981 to 1986 in four villages belonging to the KV Kuppam block of North Arcot Ambedkar district in Tamil Nadu, we detected 328 patients of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) amongst the 9946 inhabitants who were aged 30 yr or more. Majority of the population was from the lower income group and they were agricultural workers residing in these villages which were generally free from atmospheric pollution. Of the 328 patients with COPD, 198 were males and 130 were females showing an overall age specific prevalence of 33.0/1,000 with a prevalence of 40.8/1,000 for males and 25.5/1,000 for females, respectively. In nearly half of the patients who had chest radiography, changes consistent with COPD were observed; only one patient had clinical, radiological and electrocardiographic evidence of cor-pulmonale. Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) along with height (cm) were measured in 258 patients and compared to the predicted normal values. Most of those tested showed evidence of airways obstruction; severe defect was observed in 106 patients. Among the males, 122 gave a history of smoking; majority of the heavy smokers amongst them had severe impairment of PEFR. Females from these villages denied any history of smoking. Cooking for long hours using firewood and cowdung cakes could have contributed to the development of COPD in these village women.