Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is strongly associated with childhood morbidity. Cotinine, the major metabolite of nicotine, is a useful marker of tobacco smoke exposure. Cotinine levels in infants are higher than in older children or adults exposed to the same reported quantity of ETS. One hypothesis to explain this difference is that the urinary elimination half-life of cotinine is different between infants and older children. Urine was collected at admission, 12, 24 and 48 h, cotinine levels were subsequently measured and then standardized by correcting for creatinine excretion. Urinary elimination half-life of cotinine was calculated in 31 infants and 23 older children. The median half-life was 28.3 h (range 6.3-258.5 h) in infants, and 27.14 h (range 9.7-99.42 h) in older children. A Mann-Whitney U test showed no significant difference in the median half-life of cotinine between the two age groups (P = 0.18). Multivariate linear regression analysis demonstrated no significant relationship between half-life of cotinine and corrected cotinine level (P = 0.24). Our results support the hypothesis that higher cotinine levels in infants is due to greater exposure, rather than slower metabolism of cotinine.