Six pairs (1 habitual smoker and 1 nonsmoking control) of volunteers were studied to determine the effect of smoking tobacco on breath and whole blood acetaldehyde levels. On a given study day, samples of blood and breath were obtained from both participants at -0.25, 0, 0.25, 0.50, 0.75, 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5 hour time points. The smoking volunteer was told to smoke 1-3 cigarettes between the 0 and 0.25 hour time points. Acetaldehyde levels in breath and whole blood were quantified with a fluorigenic high performance liquid chromatographic assay. Acetaldehyde in breath rose six-fold in smokers at the 0.25 hour time point and returned to levels not significantly different from baseline values found in smokers or nonsmokers by 0.50 hr. Whole blood-associated acetaldehyde measurements remained unchanged in smokers throughout the experiment and were not different from nonsmokers. In conclusion, while smoking produces appreciable levels of acetaldehyde in expired air, the partitioning of acetaldehyde associated with smoking to blood or blood proteins appears to be below the level of detection of the assay employed (picomolar). Smoking of tobacco products may not interfere with assays designed to quantify ethanol intake by measuring acetaldehyde adducts with blood proteins.