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Bone density and bone loss rates were examined among Japanese-American men categorized as current cigarette smokers, past smokers, and nonsmokers. The design included a retrospective study of smoking and bone density and a prospective study of current smoking and bone loss rates. The mean length of follow-up was 5 years; the setting was the island of Oahu. The subjects included 1303 men in the Hawaii Osteoporosis Study, 51-82 years old at their initial examination. Twenty percent were current smokers, 45% past smokers, and 35% had never smoked. Their bone density was measured at the distal and proximal radius and calcaneus using single photon absorptiometry. Compared with never smokers, current and past smokers had significantly lower bone density, especially in the predominantly cancellous calcaneus (4.8 and 4.3% lower, respectively) and partially trabecular distal radius (1.8 and 3.3% lower, respectively). The magnitude of the smoking effect was linked strongly to the duration of smoking and also to the number of cigarettes smoked. Bone loss rates subsequent to the initial measurement were greater in the current smokers than the never smokers (20.5, 27.2, and 9.7% greater at the calcaneus, distal, and proximal radius, respectively) but the differences did not achieve significance. Smokers of more than one pack per day had 32.0, 77.6, and 30.7% greater loss rates than never smokers in these same sites; the difference achieved significance at the distal radius. The results from the distal radius suggest that these smokers may increase their fracture risk 10-30% per decade of smoking. The adverse effects of smoking appeared to be greater in cancellous than cortical bone.