Carcinogenic heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) are formed in cooked meats, poultry, and fish and arise in tobacco smoke. We measured the concentrations of four prevalent HAAs in spot urine samples collected at baseline from 170 participants of the Shanghai Cohort study, a population-based cohort study of adult men recruited during 1986 to 1989 in Shanghai, China. Sixteen (18.6%) of 86 nonsmokers were positive for urinary 2-amino-9H-pyrido[2,3-b]indole (AαC) versus 41 (48.8%) of 84 cigarette smokers; the difference was statistically significant (P < 0.001). The number of cigarettes smoked per day was positively and significantly related to urinary levels of AαC in study subjects (P < 0.001); the mean level among nonsmokers was 2.54 ng/g creatinine, whereas the means for light (1-19 cigarettes per day) and heavy (20+ cigarettes per day) smokers were 7.50 and 11.92 ng/g creatinine, respectively. 2-Amino-3,4,8-trimethylimidazo[4,5-f] quinoxaline was undetected in the urine of the 170 subjects. Only 5 (2.9%) and 6 (3.5%) subjects, respectively, showed detectable levels of urinary 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine and 2-amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f] quinoxaline, and smoking status was unrelated to levels of either HAA. Quantitative measurements of HAAs in commonly eaten pork and chicken dishes in Shanghai showed low concentrations of HAAs (<1 ng/g meat). Our data indicate that AαC represents a major HAA exposure in adult men of Shanghai, China, and that tobacco smoke is an important point source of their AαC exposure.