Acute cigarette smoke causes polymorphonuclear leukocyte (neutrophil, PMN) recruitment to the lung followed by loss of elastase from the recruited cells. Dogs were exposed to cigarette smoke with different oxidant content, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) was performed, and the cell distribution in the recovered alveolar lining fluid was analyzed. Exposures were 1, 3, or 6 cigarettes on one or multiple days with a maximum dose of 42 cigarettes. The mean percent PMN present in control lavage was 2.01%, while the mean percent PMN recovered in BAL after a dose of 42 1R1 cigarettes was 13.05%. Recoverable PMN, after a single exposure to three 1R1 cigarettes, also increased from 1.7 to 10.4% by 15 h after cessation of smoke exposure. The cell response for multiple (2 and 7) day exposures was similar. The elastase content per BAL neutrophil decreased relative to peripheral blood PMN from the same animals. No free elastolytic activity was found in BAL, but PMN elastase antigen was present. Increased frequency of cigarette smoke exposure delayed the return to homeostatic cell conditions. The increased PMN accumulation observed may result in an increased proteolytic load in the pulmonary interstitium and contribute to the pathogenesis of emphysema.