Self-Reported Use of Tobacco, E-cigarettes, and Marijuana Versus Urinary Biomarkers

Pediatrics. 2019 May;143(5):e20183531. doi: 10.1542/peds.2018-3531.


Background: Surveys have been instrumental in describing adolescent use of tobacco, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), and marijuana. However, objective biomarker data are lacking. We compared adolescent self-reported use to urinary biomarkers.

Methods: From April 2017 to April 2018, adolescents 12 to 21 years old completed an anonymous questionnaire regarding tobacco, e-cigarette, and marijuana use and provided a urine sample. Urine was analyzed for biomarkers cotinine, total 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol, and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).

Results: Of 517 participants, 2.9% reported using tobacco, 14.3% e-cigarettes, and 11.4% marijuana in the past week. Only 2% reporting no smoking had total 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol levels above cutoff (14.5 pg/mL); 2% of non-e-cigarette users had cotinine above cutoff (10 ng/mL); 2% of those denying marijuana use had THCA above cutoff (10 ng/mL). Daily e-cigarette users showed significantly higher median cotinine than nondaily users (315.4 [interquartile range (IQR) 1375.9] vs 1.69 ng/mL [IQR 28.2]; P < .003). Overall, 40% who reported using nicotine-free products had cotinine >10 ng/mL. Pod users' median cotinine was significantly higher than in nonpod users (259.03 [IQR 1267.69] vs 1.61 ng/mL [IQR 16.3]; P < .003). Median THCA among daily marijuana users was higher than in nondaily users (560.1 [IQR 1248.3] vs 7.2 ng/mL [IQR 254.9]; P = .04). Sixty-one percent of those with cotinine >10 ng/mL vs 39% of those with cotinine<10 ng/mL had THCA >10 ng/mL (P < .001).

Conclusions: Adolescents' self-report correlated with measured urinary biomarkers, but subjects were unaware of their nicotine exposure. More frequent e-cigarette and pod use correlated with elevated biomarkers. Co-use of tobacco, e-cigarettes, and marijuana was corroborated by higher THCA in those with higher cotinine.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Child
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Use / epidemiology
  • Marijuana Use / urine*
  • Self Report / standards*
  • Tobacco Use / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Use / urine*
  • Vaping / epidemiology
  • Vaping / urine*
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers