The objective of the study was to examine the relation between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and the rate of change in ventilatory lung function in young adults during a study period of 8 years, with an additional aim to recognize susceptible subgroups. The study population consisted of 117 never smokers, who were 15-40 years of age at the time of an initial examination when they underwent spirometry and a standardized interviewer-administered questionnaire on respiratory health, and were re-examined 8 years later. Lifetime exposure to ETS at home and at work before the start of the study was ascertained at an early stage of the study, and exposure during the study period was recorded at the 8-year examination. The relations between home and work ETS exposure before and during the study period and the rate of change in forced expiratory volume in one second (delta FEV1 in ml/yr) and in mean forced expiratory flow during the middle half of the forced vital capacity (delta FEF25-75 in 1/sec/yr) were studied in linear regression models including potential confounders and other determinants of the outcome. There was no statistically significant relation between ETS exposure during or before the study period and evolution of FEV1 or FEF25-75. The 95% confidence intervals of the estimates indicated that ETS exposure was unlikely to have a physiologically relevant effect. A statistically significant but physiologically unimportant relation was observed between cumulative home ETS exposure before the study and delta FEV1 in the subgroup of subjects 25 years of age or younger. There was no evidence of modification by atopy, wheezing or gender. The results suggest that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in young adulthood at home and in office work environment does not lead to a clinically important ventilatory impairment in such exposure levels as experienced in Canadian housing conditions. This does not refute the possibility that higher exposure due to more frequent smoking in smaller indoor spaces with lower rates of ventilation may be harmful.