Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the major causes of chronic morbidity and mortality worldwide. The development of markers of COPD onset is hampered by the lack of accessibility to the primary target tissue, and there is a need to consider other sample sources as surrogates for biomarker research. Airborne toxicants pass through the nasal epithelium before reaching the lower airways, and the similarity with bronchial histology makes it an attractive surrogate for lower airways. In this work, we describe the transcriptomics findings from the nasal epithelia of subjects enrolled in a clinical study focusing on the identification of COPD biomarkers. Transcriptomic data were analyzed using the biological network approach that enabled us to pinpoint the biological processes affected in the upper respiratory tract in response to smoking and mild-to-moderate COPD. Our results indicated that nasal and lower airway immune responses were considerably different in COPD subjects and caution should be exercised when using upper airway samples as a surrogate for the lower airway. Nevertheless, the network approach described here could present a sensitive means of identifying smokers at risk of developing COPD.