Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer worldwide. Gene expression in surgically resected and microdissected samples of non-small-cell lung cancers (18 squamous cell carcinomas and nine adenocarcinomas), matched normal bronchial epithelium, and peripheral lung tissue from both smokers (n = 22) and non-smokers (n = 5) was studied using the Affymetrix U133A array. A subset of 15 differentially regulated genes was validated by real-time PCR or immunohistochemistry. Hierarchical cluster analysis clearly distinguished between benign and malignant tissue and between squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas. The bronchial epithelium and adenocarcinomas could be divided into the two subgroups of smokers and non-smokers. By comparison of the gene expression profiles in the bronchial epithelium of non-smokers, smokers, and matched cancer tissues, it was possible to identify a signature of 23 differentially expressed genes, which might reflect early cigarette smoke-induced and cancer-relevant molecular lesions in the central bronchial epithelium of smokers. Ten of these genes are involved in xenobiotic metabolism and redox stress (eg AKR1B10, AKR1C1, and MT1K). One gene is a tumour suppressor gene (HLF); two genes act as oncogenes (FGFR3 and LMO3); two genes are involved in matrix degradation (MMP12 and PTHLH); three genes are related to cell differentiation (SPRR1B, RTN1, and MUC7); and five genes have not been well characterized to date. By comparison of the tobacco-exposed peripheral alveolar lung tissue of smokers with non-smokers and with adenocarcinomas from smokers, it was possible to identify a signature of 27 other differentially expressed genes. These genes are involved in the metabolism of xenobiotics (eg GPX2 and FMO3) and may represent cigarette smoke-induced, cancer-related molecular targets that may be utilized to identify smokers with increased risk for lung cancer.