Esophageal cancer mortality rates in Central and Eastern Europe have been increasing steadily and are expected to increase further in the future. To evaluate the role of risk factors for esophageal cancer in this population, a multicenter study was conducted, with investigation of tobacco and alcohol as one of the principal aims. We have included 192 squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and 35 adenocarcinoma cases of the esophagus diagnosed at designated hospitals in 5 centers from Romania, Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland. Controls were frequency matched from patients in the same hospital as the cases (n = 1,114). Our results showed that the risk of esophageal SCC may be increased by approximately 7-fold for current smokers (OR = 7.41, 95% CI 3.98–13.79) and by 3-fold for ever alcohol drinkers (OR = 2.86, 95% CI 1.06–7.74). Dose-response relations were evident for both the frequency and duration of tobacco and of alcohol on the risk of esophageal SCC. Risk estimates for tobacco smoking were highest for lower esophageal SCCs, while risk estimates for alcohol drinking were highest for upper esophageal SCCs; though differences were not statistically significant. For adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, our results suggested a more modest increase in risk because of tobacco smoking than that for SCC of the esophagus and no association with alcohol consumption, although our sample size was small. A synergistic interaction between tobacco and alcohol was observed for the risk of esophageal SCC, highlighting the importance of both factors for esophageal cancers in Central and Eastern Europe. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.