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Assessing tobacco smoke exposure in pregnancy from self-report, urinary cotinine and NNAL: a validation study using the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study

Por: Peacock · J. L. · Palys · T. J. · Halchenko · Y. · Sayarath · V. · Takigawa · C. A. · Murphy · S. E. · Peterson · L. A. · Baker · E. R. · Karagas · M. R.

Accurate assessment of tobacco smoke exposure is key to evaluate its effects. We sought to validate and establish cut-offs for self-reported smoking and secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure during pregnancy using urinary cotinine and 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(-3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL) in a large contemporary prospective study from the USA, with lower smoking prevalence than has previously been evaluated.


Prospective birth cohort.


Pregnancy clinics in New Hampshire and Vermont, USA.


1396 women enrolled in the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study with self-reported smoking, urinary cotinine, NNAL and pregnancy outcomes.

Primary and secondary outcome measures

Cut-offs for urinary cotinine and NNAL concentrations were estimated from logistic regression models using Youden’s method to predict SHS and active smoking. Cotinine and NNAL were each used as the exposure in separate multifactorial models for pregnancy outcomes.


Self-reported maternal smoking was: 72% non-smokers, 5.7% ex-smokers, 6.4% SHS exposure, 6.2% currently smoked, 10% unreported. Cotinine and NNAL levels were low and highly intercorrelated (r=0.91). Geometric mean cotinine, NNAL were 0.99 ng/mL, 0.05 pmol/mL, respectively. Cotinine cut-offs for SHS, current smoking were 1.2 ng/mL and 1.8 ng/mL (area under curve (AUC) 95% CI: 0.52 (0.47 to 0.57), 0.90 (0.85 to 0.94)). NNAL cut-off for current smoking was 0.09 pmol/mL (AUC=0.82 (95% CI 0.77 to 0.87)). Using cotinine and NNAL cut-offs combined gave similar AUC to cotinine alone, 0.87 (95% CI 0.82 to 0.91). Cotinine and NNAL gave almost identical effect estimates when modelling pregnancy outcomes.


In this population, we observed high concordance between self-complete questionnaire smoking data and urinary cotinine and NNAL. With respect to biomarkers, either cotinine or NNAL can be used as a measure of tobacco smoke exposure overall but only cotinine can be used to detect SHS.