Nicotine and cotinine in hair are good biomarkers for assessing long-term exposure to smoking. However, analytical devices such as GC/MS are associated with high cost and are not widely used. HPLC/UV is used widely in laboratories, but is unsuitable for measurement of minor constituents, except when using the column-switching method. Thus, we aimed to establish a simple, inexpensive and sensitive method based on HPLC/UV with column switching for measuring nicotine and cotinine in hair. First, we compared the presence and absence of a column selection unit. We then measured amounts of nicotine and cotinine in hair samples collected from the general population, and compared both the corresponding levels and the detection limits with those in previous studies. Finally, initial and running costs of HPLC/UV were compared with other analytical methods. As one of the results, the areas of nicotine and cotinine measured by HPLC/UV with column-switching method were 12.9 and 16.9 times greater, respectively, than those without the column-switching method. The amount of nicotine and cotinine in hair was significantly correlated to number of cigarettes smoked per day (r = 0.228, p = 0.040). In addition, the HPLC/UV method showed similar sensitivity and detection limit (nicotine, 0.10 ng/mg; cotinine, 0.08 ng/mg) as reported in previous studies. The cost of the HPLC/UV method is lower than that of other analytical methods. We were able to establish a low-cost method with good sensitivity for measuring nicotine and cotinine in hair. The HPLC/UV with a column-switching method will be useful as a first step in screening surveys in order to better understand the effects of smoking exposure.
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