Water-soluble components of the gas phase of filtered cigarette smoke inhibit formation of covalent desmosine cross-links during conversion of tropoelastin to elastin in vitro. These same smoke components also suppress lysyl-oxidase-catalyzed oxidation of lysine epsilon-amino groups in tropoelastin (the chemical step preceding formation of all elastin cross-links, including desmosine) in a dose-dependent fashion. However, gas phase smoke does not block the oxidation of diaminopentane by lysyl oxidase. Thus, gas phase cigarette smoke may possess substrate-directed (rather than enzyme-directed) inhibitory components capable of interfering with elastin cross-linking in vitro. Similar effects occurring in smokers' lungs could impede elastin repair and contribute to the development of pulmonary emphysema.