We have investigated the level of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) damage and deletions in bronchoalveolar lavage tissues from smokers and nonsmokers using quantitative, extra-long PCR and a 'common' mtDNA deletion assay. Smokers had 5.6 times the level of mtDNA damage, 2.6 times the damage at a nuclear locus (β-globin gene cluster), and almost 7 times the level of a 4.9-kb mtDNA deletion compared to nonsmokers, although the latter increase was not significant. Although both genomes (mitochondrial and nuclear) showed significantly increased levels of DNA damage in smokers (mtDNA P = 0.00072; β-globin P = 0.0056), the relative differences were greatest in the mtDNA. Damage to the mtDNA may inhibit oxidative phosphorylation and, therefore, potentially cause or contribute to chronic lung disease and cancer. Consequently, the mtDNA may be a sensitive biomarker for environmentally induced genetic damage and mutation.