Carboxyhaemoglobin (COHb) levels were studied in 11 249 men. The distribution among the 2613 men who smoked cigarettes was well separated from that in 6641 non-smokers (including ex-smokers). The distribution for 2005 cigar and pipe smokers was intermediate, though some of the highest COHb levels occurred in cigar smokers. Using a COHb cut-off level of 2%, 81% of cigarette smokers, 35% of cigar and pipe smokers, and 1.0% of non-smokers had raised COHb levels. In a subsidiary experiment alveolar air samples were collected from 162 smokers and 25 non-smokers using a simple breath sampling technique. Carbon monoxide concentrations in alveolar breath were highly correlated with COHb levels (r = 0.97) indicating that COHb levels can be estimated reliably by measuring the concentration of carbon monoxide in breath. Alveolar carbon monoxide measurement is thus a simple method of estimating whether a person is likely to be a smoker.
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