The association between cigarette smoking and the risk of colorectal cancer remains controversial. We examined this association using a population-based prospective cohort study in Miyagi, Japan. In 1990, we delivered a self-administered questionnaire on cigarette smoking and other health habits to 25 279 men who were 40-64 years of age and lived in 14 municipalities of Miyagi Prefecture. A total of 22 836 men responded (90.3% response rate). During 7 years of follow-up (158 376 person-years), we identified 188 patients of colorectal cancer. Relative risks and 95% confidence intervals were estimated by the Cox proportional-hazards regression analysis with adjustment for potential confounders. The multivariate-adjusted relative risks (95% confidence interval) of colorectal cancer for past smokers and current smokers compared with those who had never smoked were 1.73 (1.04-2.87) and 1.47 (0.93-2.34), respectively. Among current smokers, both a higher number of cigarettes smoked per day and an earlier age at which smoking had started were associated with a significant linear increase in risk (P for trend <0.05). Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that cigarette smoking is associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer in men.