Cytochrome P450 2A6 (CYP2A6) is a polymorphic enzyme responsible for the oxidation of certain precarcinogens and drugs and is the major nicotine C-oxidase. The role of CYP2A6 for nicotine elimination was emphasised recently by the finding that smokers carrying defective CYP2A6 alleles consumed fewer cigarettes [Pianezza et al. (1998) Nature 393, 750]. The method used for CYP2A6 genotyping has, however, been found to give erroneous results with respect to the coumarin hydroxylase phenotype, a probe reaction for the CYP2A6 enzyme. The present study describes an allele-specific PCR genotyping method that identifies the major defective CYP2A6 allele and accurately predicts the phenotype. An allele frequency of 1-3% was observed in Finnish, Spanish, and Swedish populations, much lower than described previously.