Toxic carbonyl compounds, including formaldehyde, malonaldehyde, and glyoxal, formed in mainstream cigarette smoke were quantified by derivatization-solid phase extraction-gas chromatography methods. Cigarette smoke from 14 commercial brands and one reference (2R1F) was drawn into a separatory funnel containing aqueous phosphate-buffered saline. Reactive carbonyl compounds trapped in the buffer solution were derivatized into stable nitrogen containing compounds (pyrazoles for beta-dicarbonyl and alpha,beta-unsaturated aldehyde; quinoxalines for alpha-dicarbonyls; and thiazolidines for alkanals). After derivatives were recovered using C(18) solid phase extraction cartridges, they were analyzed quantitatively by a gas chromatograph with a nitrogen phosphorus detector. The total carbonyl compounds recovered from regular size cigarettes ranged from 1.92 mg/cigarette(-1) to 3.14 mg/cigarette(-1). The total carbonyl compounds recovered from a reference cigarette and a king size cigarette were 3.23 mg/cigarette(-1) and 3.39 mg/cigarette(-1), respectively. The general decreasing order of the carbonyl compounds yielded was acetaldehyde (1110-2101 microg/cigarette(-1)) > diacetyl (301-433 microg/cigarette(-1)), acrolein (238-468 microg/cigarette(-1)) > formaldehyde (87.0-243 microg/cigarette(-1)), propanal (87.0-176 microg/cigarette(-1)) > malonaldehyde (18.9-36.0 microg/cigarette(-1)), methylglyoxal (13.4-59.6 microg/cigarette(-1)) > glyoxal (1.93-6.98 microg/cigarette(-1)).