Non-invasive validation of cigarette- or cigar-smoking behaviour is necessary for large population studies. Urine or saliva samples can be used for confirmation of recent nicotine intake by analysis of cotinine, the major metabolite of nicotine. However, this test is not suitable for validation of survey data, since the quantification of cotinine in saliva only reflects nicotine exposure during the preceding week. To validate information on tobacco use, we investigated hair samples for quantifying nicotine and cotinine by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Hair (about 50-100 mg) was incubated in 1 M sodium hydroxide at 100 degrees C for 10 min. After cooling, samples were extracted by diethyl ether, using ketamine as an internal standard. Drugs were separated on a 12-m BP-5 capillary column, and detected using selected-ion monitoring (m/z 84, 98 and 180 for nicotine, cotinine and ketamine, respectively). Hair from non-smokers and smokers contained nicotine and cotinine. Although it is difficult to determine an absolute cut-off concentration, more than 2 ng of nicotine per milligram of hair can be used to differentiate smokers from non-smokers. Some applications of this technique are developed to determine the status of passive smokers, the gestational exposure in babies and the pattern of an individual's nicotine use by cutting strands of hair into sections of one-month intervals.