Cigarette smoking has been implicated in the pathogenesis of cataract, but the pathogenic mechanism by which cigarette smoke causes cataract is yet to be completely understood. There has been suggestion that oxidative damage caused by accumulation of Fenton reagents (iron and copper) in the lens can cause lens damage and possibly cataract. To investigate the accuracy of this theory the study was planned. A number of twenty-four male Wistar rats were divided randomly into experimental and control groups. The experimental group of rats were exposed to cigarette smoke for two hours in each day over sixty consecutive days and the controls were treated in identical fashion but only exposed to room air. At the end of the study period, both eyes of all the animals were enucleated and one eye prepared for histopathological examination and the other used for the measurement of metal levels. The lenses of experimental animals showed significantly decreased zinc and increased iron, and calcium concentration relative to those of sham exposed controls. However, no significant difference was found in the copper contents of the lenses of both groups. Distinct histopathological changes such as hyperplasia, hypertrophia, and multilayering of epithelial cells and elevations of calcium concentration detected in the lenses of experimental group animals suggested that the lens damage was a result of in-vivo exposure to tobacco smoke. We propose that increased metal contents in the lens can cause lens damage by the mechanism of oxidative stress through formation of oxygen radicals via metal catalysed Fenton reaction. (C) 1997 Academic Press Limited.