Associations of smoking indicators and cotinine levels with telomere length: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

Prev Med Rep. 2019 May 17;15:100895. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.100895. eCollection 2019 Sep.


The influence of smoking exposure on telomere length with a focus on the impact of race has rarely been discussed. We performed a cross sectional analysis into the associations of smoking indicators with leukocyte telomere length (LTL) by race among 5864 nationally representative sample of US adults (≥20 years). Data from 1999 to 2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was used for the analysis. Smoking indicators were assessed by interviews and serum cotinine levels. LTL was quantified by polymerase chain reaction. Multiple linear regressions were used to assess the association with adjustment for covariates, sample weights and design effects separately for Whites, Blacks and Mexican Americans. The intensity of smoking, measured by the average number of cigarettes consumed per day, was negatively associated with LTL among Whites (β: -3.87, 95% CI: -5.98 to -1.21) and among Blacks (β: -15.46, 95% CI: -29.79 to -2.12) participants. Compared with cotinine level < 0.05 ng/ml, cotinine level ≥3 ng/ml was associated with shorter LTL (β: -77.92, 95% CI = -143.05 to -11.70) among Whites, but not among Blacks. We found increased number of cigarette consumption to be associated with shorter LTL in both Blacks and Whites, indicating that the impact of smoking on life-shortening diseases could partly be explained by telomere biology. Increased cotinine concentration however, was associated with shorter LTL only among Whites, not among Blacks. This differential relationship that we observed may have implications in interpreting cotinine as an objective biomarker of smoking exposure across races and warrant additional prospective investigation.

Keywords: CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CI, Confidence interval; CRP, C-reactive protein; Cotinine; LTL, Leukocyte telomere length; Leukocyte telomere length; NCHS, National Center for Health Statistics; NHANES, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; Race; Smoking; bp, Base pairs.