We have analyzed the levels of nicotine and cotinine in pericardial fluid in 24 consecutively autopsied cases of sudden unexpected death in infants aged one to six months. Our aim was to determine to what extent victims of sudden infant death may have been exposed to passive smoking near the time of death. Sixteen of the decreased infants were classified as SIDS at autopsy. Other contributing causes of death, predominantly infections, were found in eight cases. Eight infants (30%) had cotinine levels less than 2 ng, indicating that no significant exposure to nicotine had occurred near the time of death. Of the remaining 70%, five had been moderately exposed, seven markedly exposed and four heavily exposed (cotinine levels 2-10 ng, 10-50 ng and more than 50 ng, respectively). Since only 18% of Swedish women smoke after childbearing we conclude that nicotine exposure in infants who died suddenly was much higher than one would otherwise expect. It is hypothesized that high concentrations of nicotine and nicotine metabolites around the heart may affect cardiac function and thus play a role in the mechanisms causing SIDS or other categories of sudden unexpected death.