This study evaluated small airway dysfunction and emphysematous destruction of lung parenchyma in cigarette smokers, using chest expiratory high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) and pulmonary function tests (PFT). The degree of emphysematous destruction was classified by visual scoring (VS) and the average HRCT number at full expiration/full inspiration (E/I ratio) calculated in 63 male smokers and 10 male nonsmokers (group A). The Brinkman smoking index (BI), defined as cigarettes x day(-1) x yrs, was estimated. Sixty-three smokers were divided into three groups by PFT: group B1 (n=7), with normal PFT; group B2 (n=21), with diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (DL,CO) > or = 80% predicted, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) < 80% pred and/or residual volume (RV) > 120% pred; and group B3 (n=35), with DL,CO < 80% pred, FEV1 < 80% pred and/or RV > 120% pred. Heavy smokers (BI > or = 600) (n=48) showed a significant increase in emphysema by both VS and E/I. E/I was significantly elevated in both group B2 (mean+/-SD 0.95+/-0.05) and B3 (0.96+/-0.06) compared with group B1 (0.89+/-0.03). VS could not differentiate group B2 (3.9+/-5.0) from B1 (1.1+/-1.6). These findings suggest that the expiration/inspiration ratio reflects hyperinflation and airway obstruction, regardless of the functional characteristics of emphysema, in cigarette smokers.