Urinary Cotinine Levels Among Latino Tobacco Farmworkers in North Carolina Compared to Latinos Not Employed in Agriculture

Nicotine Tob Res. 2016 Jun;18(6):1517-25. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntv187. Epub 2015 Sep 16.


Introduction: This analysis describes urinary cotinine levels of North Carolina Latino farmworkers, compares cotinine levels of farmworkers to those of Latinos non-farmworkers, determines factors associated with farmworker cotinine levels, and determines if differences in farmworker and non-farmworker cotinine levels are associated with smoking.

Methods: Data are from 63 farmworkers and 44 non-farmworkers who participated in a larger study of occupational exposures. Questionnaire data and urine samples collected in 2012 and 2013 are analyzed.

Results: Farmworkers had urinary cotinine levels that were far greater than the non-farmworker group. Geometric mean (GM) urinary cotinine levels for farmworkers were 1808.22ng/ml in 2012, and 396.03ng/ml in 2013; corresponding GM levels for non-farmworkers were 4.68ng/ml and 9.03ng/ml. Farmworker GM cotinine levels were associated with harvesting tobacco (1242.77ng/ml vs. 471.26ng/ml; P = .0048), and working in wet shoes (1356.41ng/ml vs. 596.93ng/ml; P = .0148). Smoking did not account for cotinine level differences; the GM cotinine level for farmworkers who did not smoke was 541.31ng/ml; it was 199.40ng/ml for non-farmworkers who did smoke.

Conclusion: North Carolina farmworkers experience large nicotine doses. The long-term health effects of these doses are not known. Although procedures to reduce occupational nicotine exposure are known, no changes in work practices or in policies to protect workers have been implemented. Research on the health effects of occupational nicotine exposure must become a priority. Current knowledge of occupational transdermal nicotine exposure must be used to improve occupational safety practice and policy for tobacco workers.

Implications: This study documents the heavy burden of nicotine exposure and dose experienced by tobacco workers in North Carolina. Hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and farmers in the United States and Canada, as well as agricultural workers around the world, share this burden of nicotine exposure and dose. These results support the need to change work practices and regulations to protect workers. They also document the need to delineate the health effects of long-term exposure to high transdermal nicotine doses.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cotinine / urine*
  • Farmers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotiana*
  • North Carolina
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Health


  • Cotinine