Cigarette smoking is known to alter the numerical presence and function of alveolar macrophages. It has been speculated that these cigarette-smoke-induced alterations contribute to the depressed pulmonary defence mechanism commonly demonstrated in smokers. Studies of the phagocytic and bactericidal activities of alveolar macrophages from smokers and non-smokers have yielded conflicting results. The purpose of this study was to investigate the phagocytic capacity of alveolar macrophages from mice exposed to cigarette smoke in relation to the ability to ingest inert particles (latex beads). Measurements were made before (basal values), immediately after, and 1, 12 or 24 h after exposure. Significant decreases were observed in the number of latex beads ingested by 100 macrophages (phagocytic index) and in the phagocytic efficiency for ingesting latex (mean number of latex beads ingested per activated macrophages) immediately after and 1 h after exposure, and in the number of activated macrophages (those with phagocytic activity) immediately after exposure.