Defense Date


Document Type

Directed Research Project

First Advisor

Shane Wyatt


Tobacco use can cause lasting health conditions which can lead to death. Tobacco exposure comes from obvious sources like smoking or chewing tobacco, however these are not the only administration methods. Secondhand smoke exposure can affect even those who choose not to expose themselves to tobacco, which also opens them to the health issues that come along with tobacco use. Tobacco contains many different compounds, one of which is nicotine (Kataoka, 2009). Although nicotine is the most abundant compound in tobacco, it does not stay in the body for long periods of time. Nicotine metabolizes into cotinine which is more stable, therefore lasting longer in the body (Ahmad, 2020). A direct correlation has been established between cotinine concentration in body fluids and tobacco usage behavior (Doctor, 2004). The CDC National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reports cotinine levels representative of the entire U.S. population and will be used as a comparison for this study (CDC, 2021). The purpose of this research is to investigate the secondhand smoke exposure in this population of non-smoking college students and compare to the levels of cotinine in the general non-smoking population to determine if college students are at greater risk of secondhand smoke exposure than the general population. This research was also done to investigate how different administration methods affect the cotinine levels in smokers. Cotinine was extracted from the urine samples using a solid phase extraction (SPE) method and then analyzed using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). The average cotinine levels for smokers and non-smokers in this population are 47.02 ng/mL and 3.76 ng/mL, respectively. The non-smoking participants’ cotinine levels could be from secondhand smoke exposure or from possible dietary cotinine. The smokers’ samples showed cotinine levels that were similar for participants who smoked less per day than those who smoked more per day; this could be a result of dilution of the urine by the participant’s liquid consumption. The method developed for this research successfully extracts and identifies cotinine from human urine. The analysis of more samples will allow for more insight into how the different administration methods affect cotinine levels.


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VCU Master of Science in Forensic Science Directed Research Projects

Date of Submission