Cytochrome P450 2A6 (CYP2A6) catalyzes the metabolism of nicotine and the tobacco-specific lung carcinogen, 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK). Genetic variation in CYP2A6 may affect smoking behavior and contribute to lung cancer risk. A nested case-control study of 197 lung cancer cases and 197 matched controls was conducted within a prospective cohort of 63 257 Chinese men and women in Singapore. Quantified were five genetic variants of CYP2A6 (*1A, *4, *7, *9 and *12) and urinary metabolites of nicotine [total nicotine, total cotinine, total trans- 3'-hydroxycotinine (3HC)] and NNK (total NNAL, free NNAL, NNAL-glucuronide, NNAL-N-glucuronide, and NNAL-Oglucuronide). Higher urinary metabolites of nicotine and NNK were significantly associated with a 2- to 3-fold increased risk of lung cancer after adjustment for smoking intensity and duration. Lower CYP2A6-determined nicotine metabolizer status was significantly associated with a lower ratio of total 3HC over total cotinine, lower total nicotine equivalent and reduced risk of developing lung cancer (all Ptrend < 0.001). Compared with normal metabolizers, odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) of developing lung cancer for intermediate, slow and poor metabolizers determined by CYP2A6 genotypes were 0.85 (0.41-1.77), 0.55 (0.28-1.08) and 0.32 (0.15-0.70), respectively, after adjustment for smoking intensity and duration and urinary total nicotine equivalents. Thus the reduced risk of lung cancer in smokers with lower CYP2A6 activity may be explained by lower consumption of cigarettes, less intense smoking and reduced CYP2A6-catalyzed activation of the tobacco-specific lung carcinogen NNK.