To examine the association between cigarette smoking and the risk of gastric cancer, we conducted a pooled analysis of 2 population-based prospective cohort studies in rural northern Japan. Cohort 1 included 9,980 men (≥40 years old) and Cohort 2 included 19,412 men (40–64 years old). The subjects completed a self-administered questionnaire on cigarette smoking and other health habits. We identified 228 cases of gastric cancer among Cohort 1 subjects (9 years of follow-up with 74,073 person-years) and 223 among Cohort 2 subjects (7 years of follow-up with 141,675 person-years). From each cohort, we computed the relative risk (RR) and 95% confidence interval (CI) of gastric cancer associated with smoking using a Cox regression analysis and pooled these estimates to obtain summary measures. The pooled multivariate RRs (95% CIs) for current smokers and past smokers compared to subjects who had never smoked were 1.84 (1.39–2.43) and 1.77 (1.29–2.43), respectively. The higher number of cigarettes smoked per day among current smokers was associated with a linear increase in risk (trend p < 0.05). The significant increase in risk for past smokers remained for up to 14 years after cessation. An increased risk was noted for cancer of the antrum but not for cardia or body lesions. The risk was increased for both differentiated and nondifferentiated histologic subtypes. Our findings support the hypothesis that cigarette smoking is a risk factor for gastric cancer. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.