Background Airway bacterial dysbiosis is a feature of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, there is limited comparative data of the lung microbiome between healthy smokers, non-smokers and COPD. Methods We compared the 16S rRNA gene-based sputum microbiome generated from pair-ended Illumina sequencing of 124 healthy subjects (28 smokers and 96 non-smokers with normal lung function), with single stable samples from 218 COPD subjects collected from three UK clinical centres as part of the COPDMAP consortium. Results In healthy subjects Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes and Actinobacteria were the major phyla constituting 88% of the total reads, and Streptococcus, Veillonella, Prevotella, Actinomyces and Rothia were the dominant genera. Haemophilus formed only 3% of the healthy microbiome. In contrast, Proteobacteria was the most dominant phylum accounting for 50% of the microbiome in COPD subjects, with Haemophilus and Moraxella at genus level contributing 25 and 3% respectively. There were no differences in the microbiome profile within healthy and COPD subgroups when stratified based on smoking history. Principal coordinate analysis on operational taxonomic units showed two distinct clusters, representative of healthy and COPD subjects (PERMANOVA, p = 0·001). Conclusion The healthy and COPD sputum microbiomes are distinct and independent of smoking history. Our results underline the important role for Gammaproteobacteria in COPD.