DNA damage was assessed in smoker lymphocytes by subjecting them to the single cell gel electrophoresis (SCGE) assay. In addition to the appearance of comet tails, smoker cells exhibited enlarged nuclei when analysed by the comet assay. On comparing basal DNA damage among smokers and a non-smoking control group, smoker lymphocytes showed higher basal DNA damage (smokers, 36.25+/-8.45 microm; non-smokers, 21.6+/-2.06 microm). A significant difference in DNA migration lengths was observed between the two groups at 10 min after UV exposure (smokers, 65.5+/-20.34 microm; non-smokers, 79.2+/-11.59 microm), but no significant differences were seen at 30 min after UV exposure (smokers, 21.13+/-10.73 microm; non-smokers, (27.2+/-4.13 microm). The study thus implies that cigarette smoking perhaps interferes with the incision steps of the nucleotide excision repair (NER) process. There appeared be no correlation between the frequency of smoking and DNA damage or the capacity of the cells to repair UV-induced DNA damage that suggests inherited host factors may be responsible for the inter-individual differences in DNA repair capacities. The study also suggests monitoring NER following UV insult using the SCGE assay is a sensitive and simple method to assess DNA damage and integrity of DNA repair in human cells exposed to chemical mutagens.