Prenatal tobacco exposure is a significant, preventable cause of childhood morbidity, yet little is known about exposure risks for many race/ethnic subpopulations. We studied active smoking and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure in a population-based cohort of 13 racially/ethnically diverse pregnant women: white, African American, Hispanic, Native American, including nine Asian/Pacific Islander subgroups: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laotian, Samoan, and Asian Indians (N = 3329). Using the major nicotine metabolite, cotinine, as an objective biomarker, we analyzed mid-pregnancy serum from prenatal screening banked in 1999⁻2002 from Southern California in an effort to understand differences in tobacco exposure patterns by race/ethnicity, as well as provide a baseline for future work to assess secular changes and longer-term health outcomes. Prevalence of active smoking (based on age- and race-specific cotinine cutpoints) was highest among African American, Samoan, Native Americans and whites (6.8⁻14.1%); and lowest among Filipinos, Chinese, Vietnamese and Asian Indians (0.3⁻1.0%). ETS exposure among non-smokers was highest among African Americans and Samoans, followed by Cambodians, Native Americans, Vietnamese and Koreans, and lowest among Filipinos, Japanese, whites, and Chinese. At least 75% of women had detectable cotinine. While for most groups, levels of active smoking corresponded with levels of ETS, divergent patterns were also found. For example, smoking prevalence among white women was among the highest, but the group's ETS exposure was low among non-smokers; while Vietnamese women were unlikely to be active smokers, they experienced relatively high ETS exposure. Knowledge of race/ethnic differences may be useful in assessing disparities in health outcomes and creating successful tobacco interventions.