Human cancer risk assessment using molecular genetic techniques is a rapidly emerging field. Many studies suggest that both inherited and acquired genetic predispositions play an important role in carcinogenesis. Cytochrome P450 (CYP) 2E1 is involved in the metabolic activation of N-nitrosamines and other low molecular weight compounds. A recently described genetic polymorphism of CYP2E1 [DraI restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP)] has been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in Japanese. We have assessed the allelic frequency of three RFLPs (PstI, RsaI, and DraI) in African-Americans (n = 109), Caucasian Americans (n = 153), and octogenarian Japanese (n = 42), and also in a United States case-control study of lung cancer (histologically confirmed lung cancer, n = 58; controls, n = 56; total, n = 114). The relationship of the CYP2E1 DraI polymorphism to other CYP2E1 polymorphisms (PstI and RsaI RFLP) was examined. The allelic frequency of the DraI C minor allele for all subjects was 0.09 in Caucasians, 0.09 in African-Americans, and 0.31 in Japanese. In the case-control study of lung cancer, no association of the CYP2E1 DraI genotype with lung cancer was found (odds ratio, 1.57; 95% confidence interval, 0.59-4.18). Comparison after discordant CYP2E1 genotypes suggests the presence of different haplotypes in Americans and Japanese. These results indicate that the CYP2E1 DraI RFLP is probably not a cancer risk factor in United States Caucasian or African-Americans, although statistical power is limited given the low frequency of the CYP2E1 DraI C minor alleles.