In order to raise public awareness of the importance of early detection of airway obstruction and to enable many people who had not been tested previously to have their lung function measured, the European Lung Foundation and the European Respiratory Society (ERS) organised a spirometry testing tent during the annual ERS Congresses in 2004-2009. Spirometry was performed during the ERS Congresses in volunteers; all participants answered a simple, brief questionnaire on their descriptive characteristics, smoking and asthma. Portable spirometers were freely provided by the manufacturer. Nurses and doctors from pulmonary departments of local hospitals/universities gave their service for free. Lower limit of normal (LLN) and Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) criteria for diagnosing and grading airway obstruction were used. Of 12,448 participants in six congress cities, 10,395 (83.5%) performed acceptable spirometry (mean age 51.0 ± 18.4 yrs; 25.5% smokers; 5.5% asthmatic). Airway obstruction was present in 12.4% of investigated subjects according to LLN criteria and 20.3% according to GOLD criteria. Through multinomial logistic regression analysis, age, smoking habits and asthma were significant risk factors for airway obstruction. Relative risk ratio and 95% confidence interval for LLN stage I, for example, was 2.9 (2.0-4.1) for the youngest age (≤ 19 yrs), 1.9 (1.2-3.0) for the oldest age (≥ 80 yrs), 2.4 (2.0-2.9) for current smokers and 2.8 (2.2-3.6) for reported asthma diagnosis. In addition to being a useful advocacy tool, the spirometry tent represents an unusual occasion for early detection of airway obstruction in large numbers of city residents with an important public health perspective.