Active and passive smoking have been associated with an array of adverse effects on health. The development of valid and accurate scales of measurement for exposures associated with health risks constitutes an active area of research. Tobacco smoke exposure still lacks an ideal method of measurement. A valid estimation of the risks associated with tobacco exposure depends on accurate measurement. However, some groups of people are more reluctant than others to disclose their smoking status and exposure to tobacco. This is particularly true for pregnant women and parents of young children, whose smoking is often regarded as socially unacceptable. For others, recall of tobacco exposure may also prove difficult. Because relying on self-report and the various biases it introduces may lead to inaccurate measures of nicotine exposure, more objective solutions have been suggested. Biomarkers constitute the most commonly used objective method of ascertaining nicotine exposure. Of those available, cotinine has gained supremacy as the biomarker of choice. Traditionally, cotinine has been measured in blood, saliva, and urine. Cotinine collection and analysis from these sources has posed some difficulties, which have motivated the search for a more consistent and reliable source of this biomarker. Hair analysis is a novel, noninvasive technique used to detect the presence of drugs and metabolites in the hair shaft. Because cotinine accumulates in hair during hair growth, it is a unique measure of long-term, cumulative exposure to tobacco smoke. Although hair analysis of cotinine holds great promise, a detailed evaluation of its potential as a biomarker of nicotine exposure, is needed. No studies have been published that address this issue. Because the levels of cotinine in the body are dependent on nicotine metabolism, which in turn is affected by factors such as age and pregnancy, the characterization of hair cotinine should be population specific. This review aims at defining the sensitivity, specificity, and clinical utilization of different methods used to estimate exposure to cigarette smoking and environmental tobacco smoke.