Cigarette smoking leads to uptake of a multitude of reactive chemicals including many electrophiles and may also give rise to oxidative stress. Human red blood cells are important targets for electrophilic and oxidant foreign compounds. We investigated the oxidative stress in erythrocytes upon cigarette smoking, and the response of antioxidant defense system against it. With this aim, simultaneous determination of erythrocyte superoxide dismutase (SOD), selenium dependent glutathione peroxidase (Se-GPx), catalase (CAT), glutathione S-transferase (GST) activities and plasma levels of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS), and the degree of erythrocyte membrane lipid peroxidation (EMLP) were carried out in blood samples of smokers and their controls. Plasma TBARS levels and EMLP in smokers were significantly higher than the control levels (p < 0.01 and p < 0.005, respectively). SOD activity was diminished in smokers compared to nonsmoker controls (p < 0.005). Erythrocyte Se-GPx activity was also found significantly diminished in smokers (p < 0.005), while plasma Se-GPx activity was not changed. We observed that erythrocyte CAT activity was not different in smokers compared to nonsmoker controls. We found that the erythrocyte GST activity is significantly lower in young adult smokers (3.03 +/- 0.18 U/mg protein; mean +/- SEM; n = 46) than in nonsmoking contemporaries (3.98 +/- 0.26 U/mg protein; mean +/- SEM; n = 41). Together with previously reported data, it can be concluded that the decrease in GST activity leads to extra GST synthesis during erythrocyte proliferation. The same data were also analyzed for the sex differences. The statistically significant differences remained the same between nonsmoker and smoker females. Only EMLP degree and SOD activity were significantly different between nonsmoker and smoker males; however, when compared the parameters between male and female nonsmokers, GST activity was found to be significantly higher in females than that of males. (c) 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biochem Mol Toxicol 19:226-233, 2005; Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI 10.1002/jbt.20088.