Saliva of volunteers chewing betel quid, cured betel nut (Areca catechu), betel leaves (Piper betle), a mixture of quid ingredients (dried betel nut flakes, catechu, cardamon lime, copra and menthol) and Indian tobacco was collected and examined for its genotoxic activity. Chromosome aberrations (chromatid breaks and chromatid exchanges) in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells were used to estimate the genotoxic effect. No detectable levels of clastogenic activity were observed in the saliva of non-chewing individuals. After 5 min of chewing betel quid, betel nut, betel leaves, quid ingredients and Indian tobacco, the saliva samples showed relatively potent clastogenic activities. The addition of transition metals Mn2+ and Cu2+ to the saliva samples of betel nut and Indian tobacco chewers enhanced their clastogenic activities whereas Fe3+ increased the clastogenicity of the betel nut saliva but decreased the genotoxic effect of the saliva of Indian tobacco chewers. After removal of the betel quid or its components from the mouth, the clastogenic activity disappeared within 5 min. The western-type chewing tobacco did not produce a genotoxic activity in the saliva of chewers. A possible association between the genotoxicity in the saliva of betel quid chewers and the development of oral pharyngeal and esophageal carcinomas is discussed.