Abstract Air quality monitoring was carried out to collect data on the levels of various indoor and ambient air constituents in two cities in Korea (Seoul and Taegu). Sampling was conducted simultaneously indoors and outdoors at six residences, six offices and six restaurants in each city during summer 1994 and winter 1994–1995. Measured pollutants were respirable suspended particulate matter (RSP), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO 2), nitrogen dioxide (NO 2), and a range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In addition, in order to evaluate the effect of smoking on indoor air quality, analyses of parameters associated with environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) were undertaken, which are nicotine, ultraviolet (UVPM), fluorescence (FPM) and solanesol particulate matter (SolPM). The results of this study have confirmed the importance of ambient air in determining the quality of air indoors in two major Korean cities. The majority of VOCs measured in both indoor and outdoor environments were derived from outdoor sources, probably motor vehicles. Benzene and other VOC concentrations were much higher during the winter months than the summer months and were not significantly greater in the smoking sites examined. Heating and cooking practices, coupled with generally inadequate ventilation, also were shown to influence indoor air quality. In smoking sites, ETS appears to be a minor contributor to VOC levels as no statistically significant relationships were identified with ETS components and VOCs, whereas very strong correlations were found between indoor and outdoor levels of vehicle-related pollutants. The average contribution of ETS to total RSP concentrations was estimated to range from 10 to 20%.