The first goal of this study was to examine the effect of secondhand smoking on neurogenic, endothelium- and cGMP-dependent relaxant responses of rabbit corpus cavernosum smooth muscle. Our second goal was to determine whether such an effect can be prevented by oral administration of L-arginine. Male New Zealand rabbits were divided into control, chronic passive cigarette smoking and L-arginine treatment groups. Relaxant or contractile responses in isolated corpus cavernosum smooth muscle strips were determined by using in vitro muscle technique. There was no significant difference in the relaxant response of the strips to papaverine, sodium nitroprusside and contractile response to KCl among the groups. Relaxant responses to acetylcholine and electrical field stimulation and contractile response to phenylephrine were significantly decreased in the strips of the smoking group than that of the control group. The impaired relaxations of strips were markedly improved by treatment of L-arginine, but the contractile responses to phenylephrine were not affected. These data indicate that secondhand smoking may impair both neurogenic and endothelium- dependent relaxation of corpus cavernosum smooth muscle, and may contribute to the etiology of impotence. Chronic dietary supplementation with L-arginine offsets the impairment of neurogenic and endothelial relaxation. Therefore, we suggest that secondhand smoking exposure to cigarette produces selective impairment of neurogenic and endothelium- dependent relaxation of corpus cavernosum smooth muscle via a mechanism related to the decreased production and/or availability of nitric oxide.