A priori hypotheses suggest that cigarette smoking could either increase or decrease breast cancer incidence. To clarify these competing hypotheses, we used data from a very large population-based breast cancer case-control study to investigate the impact of smoking on breast cancer risk. Breast cancer patients less than 75 years old were identified from statewide tumor registries in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire; controls were randomly selected from driver's license lists (age less than 65) or lists of Medicare beneficiaries (age 65-74). Information on reproductive history, medical history, and personal habits including cigarette smoking was obtained by telephone interview. A total of 6,888 cases and 9,529 controls were interviewed. There was virtually no relationship between current smoking and breast cancer risk (multivariate odds ratio, 1.00; 95% confidence interval, 0.92-1.09), and former smokers had a barely increased risk (odds ratio, 1.10; 95% confidence interval, 1.01-1.19). Similar results were observed among both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. There was no suggestion that heavy or long-term smoking increased or decreased risk, nor were there indications that women who began smoking at an early age were at increased risk, as has been hypothesized. The results of this large population-based study indicate that smoking does not influence the risk of breast cancer, even among heavy smokers who began smoking at an early age.