Human peripheral blood neutrophils were exposed in vitro, in a tonometer, to two different fractions of cigarette smoke-designated particulate phase and vapor phase. The proteolytic activity of the cells following exposure was assessed by measuring their elastase release and ability to degrade fibronectin. At levels of smoke exposure that were physiologically attainable, neither smoke fraction caused an increase in elastase release or fibronectin degradation. In most experiments, fibronectin proteolysis was suppressed by smoke exposure--an effect that was reversible on treatment with phorbol myristate acetate. These data provide evidence that the proteolytic activity of neutrophils is not enhanced by a direct effect of cigarette smoke on these cells.