One of the most important tasks of clinical and experimental nephrology is to identify the risk factors of progression of renal failure. A major renal risk factor which has not been sufficiently acknowledged despite increasing evidence is cigarette smoking. Diabetologists were the first to recognize the adverse effects of smoking on the kidney: both in type 1 and in type 2 diabetes smoking (i) increases the risk of development of nephropathy and (ii) nearly doubles the rate of progression to end-stage renal failure. Until recently it was not known whether smoking also increases the risk to progress to end-stage renal failure in patients with primary renal disease. A retrospective multicenter European case-control study showed that smoking is an independent risk factor for end-stage renal failure in patients with inflammatory and noninflammatory renal disease, i.e. IgA glomerulonephritis and polycystic kidney disease. The pathogenesis of the smoking-related renal damage is largely unknown. The intermittent increase in blood pressure during smoking seems to play a major role in causing renal damage, but further potential pathomechanisms are presumably also operative. Smoking as a renal risk factor is of great interest to diabetologists as well as nephrologists, but unfortunately so far this information has had little impact on patient management. The present article reviews the current knowledge about the renal risks of smoking and discusses the potential mechanisms of smoking-mediated renal injury.