Compelling evidence suggests a causal relation between exposure to parental cigarette smoking and respiratory symptoms during childhood. Still, the roles of prenatal versus postnatal parental smoking need clarification. In this study, the authors assessed the effects of passive smoking on respiratory symptoms in a cohort of over 1,000 children born during 1980-1984. The children were enrolled in the Tucson Children's Respiratory Study in Tucson, Arizona, and were followed from birth to age 11 years. The population was generally middle class and consisted of two main ethnic groups, non-Hispanic Whites (75%) and Hispanics (20%), reflecting Tucson's population. Information on parental smoking and on wheeze and cough in their children was elicited from parents by using questionnaires at five different surveys. Data were analyzed both cross-sectionally and by using the generalized estimation equation approach, a longitudinal mixed-effects model. The best-fitting model indicated that maternal prenatal but not postnatal smoking was associated with current wheeze (odds ratio = 2.3, 95% confidence interval 1.4-3.8) independently of a family history of asthma, socioeconomic factors, and birth weight. This effect was time dependent and significant only below age 3 years; although independent of gender, the association was stronger for girls (odds ratio = 3.6, 95% confidence interval 1.6-8.0). Cough was not associated with parental smoking during the first decade of life. This transitory effect of maternal prenatal smoking on wheezing could be due to changes that affect the early stages of lung development.