Cigarette smoking is associated epidemiologically with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, but the pathophysiological mechanisms are still not fully understood. There is evidence that smoking is related to increased free radical production and antioxidant depletion, but the effects of smoking cessation on plasma concentrations of antioxidants and susceptibility to oxidative stress are largely unknown. Plasma levels of vitamins A, C, E, uric acid, total thiols, carotenoids (including lutein, zeaxanthin, β-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, α- and β-carotene) and malondialdehyde (MDA, a biomarker of lipid peroxidation) were measured in fifteen healthy, normolipidaemic subjects (seven males, eight females, 35·2 (sd 2·3) years) before and 4 weeks after smoking cessation. To determine plasma resistance towards oxidative challenge, plasma was incubated for up to 5h with the peroxyl radical-generator 2,2′-azobis(2-amidinopropane) (AAPH); MDA and ascorbate levels were measured at various time points. The concentrations of all plasma antioxidants were lower before smoking cessation than afterwards; MDA levels were higher before than after termination of smoking. Upon AAPH exposure, the consumption of plasma ascorbate and the production of MDA occurred at a significantly faster rate before smoking cessation as compared with afterwards. Cigarette smoking cessation is followed by a marked increase in plasma antioxidant concentrations and substantially improves plasma resistance towards oxidative challenge. Given the importance of cigarette smoking as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and the pathophysiological role played by oxidative stress in these illnesses, quitting smoking represents an irreplaceable preventive strategy against tobacco-induced oxidative stress and vascular damage.