To assess recent trends in mortality and disease burden from tobacco in Japan, the present study estimated the number of deaths, years of life lost (YLLs) and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) attributable to tobacco for the years 1985 and 1995. Since smoking prevalence is a very poor measure of population exposure to tobacco, this study employed an alternative measure of the attributable fractions based on excess lung cancer mortality. It is suggested that there was a significant increase in both the absolute numbers and age-standardized rates of tobacco-attributed mortality and disease burden over the decade, in particular from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 1995, tobacco already accounted for 12% of total mortality, 16% of total male mortality and 7% of total female mortality. The burden of disease attributable to tobacco amounted to 10% of the total YLLs and 7% of total DALYs, suggesting that tobacco is probably a single major risk factor of mortality and morbidity in Japan.