We discuss the unconditional security of a quantum key distribution protocol in which bit values are encoded in the phase of a weak coherent-state pulse relative to a strong reference pulse, which is essentially the one proposed by Bennett in 1992 (the B92 scheme). In the BB84 protocol with a perfect single photon source, the key rate decreases linearly with the transmission T of the channel. If we simply replace this source with a weak coherent-state pulse, the key rate drops more rapidly (as O(η<sup>2</sup>)) since the presence of multiple photons favors the eavesdropper, Eve. The B92 protocol, if modified to be encoded on the polarization of a single photon, also shows O(η<sup>2</sup>) dependence. This comes from Eve's option of sending the vacuum state, which is always registered as an inconclusive result and never causes bit errors. In the original B92 scheme with phase coding, Eve has no such option--replacing the weak pulse by the vacuum cannot avoid errors completely, thanks to the strong reference pulse. This should make the scheme stronger against the loss in the channel even coherent-state pulses from conventional lasers are used. We have obtained an unconditional security proof allowing the presence of small bit errors, and confirmed the above observation in a rigorous way. The key rate is found to drop linearly with the transmission η, and it is lower than the BB84 with a perfect single-photon source only by a constant.