Both smoking and alcohol consumption may influence thyroid function, although the nature of these relations is not well understood. We examined the influence of tobacco and alcohol use on risk of papillary thyroid cancer in a population-based case-control study. Of 558 women with thyroid cancer diagnosed during 1988-1994 identified as eligible, 468 (83.9%) were interviewed; this analysis was restricted to women with papillary histology (N = 410). Controls (N = 574) were identified by random digit dialing, with a response proportion of 73.6%. We used logistic regression to calculate odds ratios (OR) and associated confidence intervals (CI) estimating the relative risk of papillary thyroid cancer associated with cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption. A history of ever having smoked more than 100 cigarettes was associated with a reduced risk of disease (OR = 0.7, 95% CI = 0.5-0.9). This reduction in risk was most evident in current smokers (OR = 0.5, 95% CI = 0.4-0.7). Women who reported that they had ever consumed 12 or more alcohol-containing drinks within a year were also at reduced risk (OR 0.7, 95% CI = 0.5-1.0). Similar to the association noted with smoking, the reduction in risk was primarily present among current alcohol consumers. The associations we observed, if not due to chance, may be related to actions of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption that reduce thyroid cell proliferation through effects on thyroid stimulating hormone, estrogen, or other mechanisms.