The aim of this study was to assess the influence of active and passive maternal smoking on cord blood total oxidant/antioxidant status at term. The levels of cord blood catalase (CAT), paraoxonase 1 (PON1), ceruloplasmin, total thiol and lipid hydroperoxide (LOOH), total antioxidant capacity (TAC), total oxidant status (TOS) and the oxidative stress index (OSI) were measured in samples of fetal cord blood serum from 29 nonsmokers who were not exposed to active or passive smoke, 30 passive smokers and 21 active smokers. The gestation period of all pregnancies was between 37 and 40 weeks, the pregnancies were uncomplicated and the infants were delivered vaginally. The weights of infants borne to the active smokers were significantly (P < 0.01) lower than those borne to the controls. Significantly lower concentrations of CAT, PON1 and TAC were found in the cord blood of the smokers than in that of the nonsmokers (P < 0.018). The cord blood levels of LOOH and TOS and OSI were significantly higher in the active and passive smokers than in the controls (P < 0.01). A significant positive correlation was found between maternal tobacco exposure and cord blood OSI (P < 0.001). Active or passive maternal smoking is associated with important alterations in the balance of oxidants and antioxidants in fetal cord blood and causes potent oxidative stress.