Cigarette smoke (CS) is known to contain a large number of oxidants. In order to assess the oxidative effects of CS on biological fluids, we exposed human blood plasma to filtered (gas phase) and unfiltered (whole) CS, and determined the rate of utilization of endogenous antioxidants in relation to the appearance of lipid hydroperoxides. Lipid peroxidation was measured with a specific and sensitive assay that can detect lipid hydroperoxides at plasma levels as low as 10 nM. We found that exposure of plasma to the gas phase of CS, but not to whole CS, induces lipid peroxidation once endogenous ascorbic acid has been oxidized completely. In addition, CS exposure caused oxidation of plasma protein thiols and albumin-bound bilirubin, whereas uric acid and alpha-tocopherol were not consumed at significant rates. In plasma exposed to the gas phase of CS, low-density lipoprotein exhibited slightly increased electrophoretic mobility, but there was no apparent degradation of apolipoprotein B. Our results support the concept of an increased vitamin C utilization in smokers, and suggest that lipid peroxidation induced by oxidants present in the gas phase of CS leads to potentially atherogenic changes in lipoproteins.