The excretion of mutagens in the urine of cigarette smokers was studied as a model for absorption and elimination of complex carcinogenic and mutagenic mixtures in humans. Urine was collected from an occasional smoker who smoked 1 cigarette (17 mg tar/cigarette) and from a heavy smoker (smokes approximately 20 cigarettes/day) who quit for 2 days and then resumed smoking. Urine samples were collected for 6 days, including a 2-day pre-smoking period for the occasional smoker and pre-abstention period for the heavy smoker, respectively. Mutagen excretion patterns were determined by extracting the mutagens in each urine sample with XAD-2 resin and testing the extract in a microsuspension modification of the Salmonella/microsome liquid-incubation assay using bacterial strain TA98 with metabolic activation. Peak mutagenic activity of the urine collected from the two smokers appeared 4-5 h after the beginning of smoking. Activity decreased to pre-smoking "baseline' levels in approximately 12 h for the occasional smoker, and the activity for the heavy smoker approached the occasional smoker's 'baseline' in approximately 18 h after the cessation of smoking. The mutagen excretion patterns of the occasional smoker after smoking a single cigarette suggests that, the mutagens, as detected by the Salmonella assay, are absorbed rapidly (3-5 h) and are eliminated from the body following first order kinetics. The excretion rate constant for the occasional smoker was approximately 0.1 h-1 and the half-life (T1/2) was approximately 7 h.