Urinary biomonitoring of subjects with different smoking habits. Part I: Profiling mercapturic acids

Toxicol Lett. 2020 Jul 1:327:48-57. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2020.03.010. Epub 2020 Apr 10.


Background: While tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic to humans, the content of electronic cigarette smoke is less known. This work aimed to assess and compare the exposure associated with different smoking habits by profiling urinary mercapturic acids as biomarkers of toxic compounds.

Methods: In this pilot study, sixty-seven healthy adults with different smoking habits were investigated: 38 non-smokers (NS), 7 electronic cigarette users (ECU), and 22 traditional tobacco smokers (TTS). Seventeen urinary mercapturic acids, metabolites of 1,3-butadiene (DHBMA, MHBMA), 4-chloronitrobenze (NANPC), acrolein (3-HPMA), acrylamide (AAMA, GAMA), acrylonitrile (CEMA), benzene (SPMA), crotonaldehyde (CMEMA, HMPMA), ethylating agents (EMA), methylating agents (MMA), ethylene oxide (HEMA), N,N-dimethylformamide (AMCC), propylene oxide (2-HPMA), styrene (PHEMA), and toluene (SBMA), were quantified, along with urinary nicotine and cotinine.

Results: Median urinary cotinine was 0.4, 1530 and 1772 μg/L in NS, ECU and TTS, respectively. Most mercapturic acids were 2-165 fold-higher in TTS compared to NS, with CEMA, MHBMA, 3-HPMA and SPMA showing the most relevant increases. Furthermore, some mercapturic acids were higher in ECU than NS; CEMA and 3-HPMA, in particular, showed significant increases and were 1.8 and 4.9 fold-higher, respectively.

Conclusions: This study confirms that tobacco smoking is a major source of carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and 1,3-butadiene; electronic cigarette use is a minor source, mostly associated with exposure to chemicals with less carcinogenic potential such as acrylonitrile and acrolein.

Keywords: Biomonitoring; Electronic cigarette smoking; Smoking habit; Tobacco smoking; Urinary mercapturic acids; Volatile organic compounds.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / urine*
  • Adult
  • Biological Monitoring / methods*
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Smoking / urine*
  • Vaping / urine*


  • Acetylcysteine