Cigarette smoke (CS) is a complex chemical mixture estimated to be composed of up to 5000 different chemicals, many of which are prooxidant. Here we show that, at least in vitro, the cellular response designed to combat oxidative stress resulting from CS exposure is primarily controlled by the transcription factor Nrf2, a principal inducer of antioxidant and phase II-related genes. The prominent role of Nrf2 in the cellular response to CS is substantiated by the following observations: In NIH3T3 cells exposed to aqueous extracts of CS (i) Nrf2 is strongly stabilized and becomes detectable in nuclear extracts. (ii) Nuclear localization of Nrf2 coincides with increased DNA binding of a putative Nrf2/MafK heterodimer to its cognate cis-regulatory site, i.e., the antioxidant-responsive element (ARE). (iii) Studies on the regulatory elements of the oxidative stress-inducible gene heme oxygenase-1 (hmox1) using various hmox1 promoter/luciferase reporter constructs revealed that the strong CS-dependent expression of this gene is primarily governed by the distal enhancers 1 ("E1") and 2 ("E2"), which both contain three canonical ARE-like stress-responsive elements (StREs). Notably, depletion of Nrf2 levels caused by RNA interference significantly compromised CS-induced hmox1 promoter activation, based on the distinct Nrf2 sensitivity exhibited by E1 and E2. Finally, (iv) siRNA-dependent knock-down of Nrf2 completely abrogated CS-induced expression of phase II-related genes. Taken together, these results confirm the outstanding role of Nrf2 both in sensing (oxidant) stress and in orchestrating an efficient transcriptional response aimed at resolving the stressing conditions.