Background. Two recent much cited publications have raised the concern that risk associated with cigarette smoking has so far been underestimated. In this study we wish to determine whether excess all-cause mortality associated with smoking has increased during the last 20-30 years in a study population representative of the general Danish population and whether any such changes relate to changes in smoking behaviour. Methods. Pooled data from three prospective population studies conducted in Copenhagen with detailed information on smoking habits. A total of 31,194 subjects, 17,669 males and 13,525 females, initially examined between 1964 and 1992 with examinations repeated at intervals from 1-10 years, were followed until 1995 for all-cause mortality. Relative mortality risk in smokers versus never-smokers was calculated within periods of five calendar years and compared throughout the study period. Results. Male smokers' exposure did not change during the study period whereas female smokers' exposure to tobacco increased in terms of age at smoking onset, quantity smoked and depth of inhalation. During follow-up 5744 males and 2900 females died. In males, death rate ratios (comparing continuous smokers with never-smokers) did not change in the study period. In females, ratios increased from 1964-1978 to 1979-1994 by a factor of 1.3 (95% confidence interval 1.0-1.8). Conclusions. In agreement with the observed changes in smoking habits, excess mortality in male smokers did not increase whereas excess mortality in female smokers increased slightly.