Genetically variable CYP2A6 is the primary enzyme that inactivates nicotine to cotinine. Our objective was to investigate allele frequencies among five ethnic groups and to investigate the relationship between genetically slow nicotine metabolic inactivation and smoking status, cigarette consumption, age of first smoking and duration of smoking. Chinese, Japanese, Canadian Native Indian, African-North American and Caucasian DNA samples were assessed for CYP2A6 allelic frequencies (CYP2A6*1B-*12,*1x2). Adult Caucasian non-smokers (n = 224) (1-99 cigarettes/lifetime) and smokers (n = 375) (> or = 100 cigarettes/lifetime) were assessed for demographics, tobacco/drug use history and DSM-IV dependence and genotyped for CYP2A6 alleles associated with decreased nicotine metabolism (CYP2A6*2, CYP2A6*4, CYP2A6*9, CYP2A6*12). CYP2A6 allele frequencies varied substantially among the ethnic groups. The proportion of Caucasian slow nicotine inactivators was significantly lower in current, DSM-IV dependent smokers compared to non-smokers [7.0% and 12.5%, respectively, P = 0.03, odds ratio (OR) = 0.52; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.29-0.95]; non-dependent smokers showed similar results. Daily cigarette consumption (cigarettes/day) was significantly (P = 0.003) lower for slow (21.3; 95% CI 17.4-25.2) compared to normal inactivators (28.2; 95% CI 26.4-29.9); this was observed only in DSM-IV dependent smokers. Slow inactivators had a significantly (P = 0.03) lower age of first smoking compared to normal inactivators (13.0 years of age; 95% CI 12.1-14.0 versus 14.2; 95% CI 13.8-14.6), and a trend towards smoking for a shorter duration. This study demonstrates that slow nicotine inactivators are less likely to be adult smokers (dependent or non-dependent). Slow inactivators also smoked fewer cigarettes per day and had an earlier age of first smoking (only dependent smokers).