Abstract Background Aging is affected by genetic and environmental factors, and cigarette smoking is strongly associated with accumulation of senescent cells. In this study, we wanted to identify genes that may potentially be beneficial for cell survival in response to cigarette smoke and thereby may contribute to development of cellular senescence. Results Primary human bronchial epithelial cells from five healthy donors were cultured, treated with or without 1.5% cigarette smoke extract (CSE) for 24 h or were passaged into replicative senescence. Transcriptome changes were monitored using RNA-seq in CSE and non-CSE exposed cells and those passaged into replicative senescence. We found that, among 1534 genes differentially regulated during senescence and 599 after CSE exposure, 243 were altered in both conditions, representing strong enrichment. Pathways and gene sets overrepresented in both conditions belonged to cellular processes that regulate reactive oxygen species, proteasome degradation, and NF-κB signaling. Conclusions Our results offer insights into gene expression responses during cellular aging and cigarette smoke exposure, and identify potential molecular pathways that are altered by cigarette smoke and may also promote airway epithelial cell senescence.