Cigarette smoke is known to contain many types of free radicals, and solutions of smoke tar have been shown to liberate hydrogen peroxide as well as superoxide radical. To further investigate the relationship of smoke exposure and generation of active oxygen species, the authors exposed rat tracheal explants to varying amounts of smoke for 10 minutes in a humidified chamber. After smoke exposure was completed, tracheal segments were incubated in a modification of the ultrastructural cerium chloride technique that was devised by Briggs et al. to demonstrate hydrogen peroxide production. Smoke dose-dependent deposition of cerium-containing reaction product was found on the cilia and the apical membranes; with low-dose smoke, the reaction product appeared as individual dots along the apical surface, but with greater amounts of smoke, heavy linear deposits of reaction product were found along the apical membranes. Smoke produced focal dose-related cell damage with blebbing of the apical membranes, loss of cilia, and focal cell necrosis. Catalase prevented both the positive histochemical reaction and the cell damage; if the catalase was first boiled, its protective effect was destroyed. Similarly, after smoke exposure was completed, tracheal segments were covered with a solution of nitroblue tetrazolium to demonstrate production of superoxide anion. A positive reaction was observed by light microscopy on the surface of tracheas that was exposed to smoke but not that exposed to air; the reaction could be prevented by addition of superoxide dismutase. The authors conclude that exposure of tracheal explants to cigarette smoke in vitro is associated with histochemical evidence of continuing production of both hydrogen peroxide and superoxide anion at the apical cell membrane.