Differences in lung cancer risk by race/ethnicity have been observed among smokers. To determine whether these observations might reflect differences in the formation of carcinogen-DNA adducts, we analysed blood specimens (n=151) collected from smokers who were recruited for possible participation in an antioxidant vitamin intervention study. Mononuclear cells were analysed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-DNA adducts by competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Genotypes of glutathione S-transferase M1 and P1 (GSTM1 and GSTP1), enzymes involved in the detoxification of PAH metabolites, were determined by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism, respectively. GSTM1 was present in 65 out of 88 (73.4%), 16 out of 32 (50.0%) and 16 out of 29 (54.8%) of African-Americans, Caucasians and Latinos, respectively (p=0.022). Homozygosity for the GSTP1 codon 105 variant was found in 25.6%, 6.3% and 10.0% of African-Americans, Caucasians and Latinos, respectively (p=0.023). Regression analysis of the log-transformed adduct levels confirmed that Caucasian and Latino subjects had lower PAH-DNA adduct levels than African-American subjects, after adjustment for gender, education, alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene levels, and GSTM1 status. Further adjustment for age and current smoking habits had no impact on these findings. Although crude analysis suggested that the GSTM1-positive genotype may be associated with lower PAH-DNA levels in Caucasians (but not in African-Americans or Latinos), a formal test for interaction between GSTM1 and ethnicity was not significant. We found no association between adduct levels and GSTP1 genotype. Although the mechanism is unclear, ethnic differences in DNA damage levels may in part explain why African-Americans have higher lung cancer incidence rates than other ethnic groups.