Airway epithelium represents the first line of defense against toxic inhalants. In some subjects, cigarette smoking causes airway inflammation, hypersecretion of mucus, and poorly reversible airflow limitation through mechanisms that are still largely unknown. Likewise, it is unclear why only some smokers develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Two cell types consistently result in relation to chronic airflow limitation in COPD: neutrophils and CD8(+) cells. Neutrophils are compartmentalized in the mucosal surface of the airways and air spaces, that is, the epithelium and lumen, whereas CD8(+) cells exhibit a more extensive distribution along the subepithelial zone of the airways and lung parenchyma, including alveolar walls and arteries. This pattern of inflammatory cell distribution is observed in mild or moderate COPD, and in patients who have developed COPD, it is not modified by smoking cessation. The number of neutrophils further increases in the submucosa of patients with severe COPD, suggesting a role for these cells in the progression of the disease. Hypersecretion of mucus is a major manifestation in COPD. Mucus is produced by bronchial glands and goblet cells lining the airway epithelium. Unlike mucous gland enlargement, greater mucosal inflammation is associated with sputum production. Whereas neutrophil infiltration of submucosal glands occurs only in smokers with COPD, goblet cell hyperplasia in peripheral airways occurs both in smokers with or without COPD, suggesting that the major determinant of goblet cell hyperplasia is cigarette smoke itself.