Hemoglobin (Hb) adducts of 4-hydroxy-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (HPB), a metabolite of two tobacco-specific nitrosamines [4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone and N'-nitrosonornicotine], were measured as biomarkers of exposure to tobacco smoke as part of a study on genetic alterations and susceptibility to lung cancer among nonsmokers. HPB-Hb adducts were measured after collection of RBCs by Ficoll gradient in six collaborating centers, release of HPB by alkaline hydrolysis from Hb, clean-up by solid-phase extraction, and analysis of an electron-capturing derivative by gas chromatography-electron capture mass spectrometry. Prior to analysis of samples from study subjects, the reproducibility of this approach was validated in blood from donors. The coefficient of variation of reproducibility of paired aliquots from five samples ranged from 7 to 25%; the within-sample reproducibilities of four and eight aliquots were 4 and 16%, respectively. The study subjects consisted of 18 smokers and 52 never-smokers. HPB-Hb adduct levels were significantly higher (P = 0.02) in smokers (26 +/- 13 fmol HPB/g Hb) than in never-smokers (20 +/- 8 fmol HPB/g Hb). There was no difference between sexes. These results suggest that the level of HPB-Hb adducts, measured using a method modified to facilitate use in multicenter studies, can be a useful biomarker of exposure to tobacco smoke.