Epidemiologic studies show a dose-response relationship between cigarettes per day and health outcomes such as heart and lung disease, and health outcomes are related to some biomarkers of tobacco exposure. The objective of this study was to examine the relationships between cigarettes per day and levels of selected biomarkers of tobacco toxin exposure: carbon monoxide (CO), metabolites of the tobacco-specific carcinogen 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [total 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL) and 1-hydroxypyrene (1-HOP), respectively], and total cotinine (cotinine plus cotinine-N-glucuronide). We did a cross-sectional analysis of merged data from (a) two clinical trials and (b) two cohorts of light smokers (total n = 400). The mean age of participants was 50.4 years and the range of cigarette consumption was 1 to 100/d; however, few subjects smoked >45 cigarettes/d (n = 12). Results show that levels of the biomarkers CO, total NNAL, and total cotinine increase with an increase in the number of cigarettes smoked per day, but not in a linear fashion. 1-HOP is a less discriminating biomarker as levels are relatively stable regardless of the number of cigarettes smoked per day. There is considerable variability in toxin measurement, especially at high levels of smoking. There was a significant correlation between cigarettes per day and total NNAL, 1-HOP, total cotinine, and CO. Total NNAL was highly significantly correlated with total cotinine and CO and also significantly correlated with 1-HOP. These findings suggest that the number of cigarettes smoked per day is not necessarily a reliable measure of toxin exposure and may underestimate tobacco toxin exposure at low levels of smoking or overestimate exposure at high levels of smoking.
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