The aim of this study was to examine the effects of cigarette smoking and changes in smoking habits on the decline of forced expiratory volume in the first second of expiration (FEV1). We studied 7,764 men and women for 5 yrs. The subjects were grouped according to self-reported smoking habits during the observation period. We found that persistent cigarette smoking, in particular heavy smoking, accelerated the decline in FEV1. In 310 subjects who quitted smoking during the observation period, the decline of FEV1 was less pronounced than the decline observed in persistent smokers. In subjects younger than 55 yrs of age, smoking reduction was associated with a less pronounced FEV1 decline, while in the elderly subjects smoking reduction had no effect on the FEV1 decline. An increase in the number of cigarettes smoked was generally associated with a more rapid decline of FEV1, while the beginning of smoking during the 5 yrs of observation did not seem to influence the decline of FEV1. We conclude that smoking cessation or reduction may lead to a demonstrable beneficial effect on the FEV1 decline within a few years.