One in ten tobacco smokers develops bronchogenic carcinoma over a lifetime. The study of susceptibility of an individual and a population to lung cancer traditionally has been limited to the study of tobacco smoke dose and family history of cancer. New insights into lung carcinogenesis have made the study of molecular markers of risk possible in human populations in the emerging field of molecular epidemiology. This review summarizes data addressing the relationships of human lung cancer to polymorphisms of phase I procarcinogen-activating and phase II-deactivating enzymes and intermediate biomarkers of DNA mutation, such as DNA adducts, oncogene and tumor suppressor gene mutation, and polymorphisms. These parameters are reviewed as they relate to tobacco smoke exposure, procarcinogen metabolizing polymorphisms, and the presence of lung cancer. Problem areas in biomarker validation, such as cross-sectional data interpretation; tissue source, race, statistical power, and ethical implications are addressed.