Lung tumors have been reproducibly induced in A/J mice exposed to a surrogate for experimental environmental tobacco smoke (ETSS) in a 5-mo inhalation period followed by 4 mo without further exposure. In order to increase our mechanistic understanding of this model, male mice were whole-body exposed for 6 h/d, 5 d/wk to ETSS with a particulate matter concentration of 100 mg/m(3). Food restriction regimens were included to model or exceed the ETSS-related impairment of body weight development. Half of the mice were pretreated with a single ip injection of urethane to study the effect of the above treatments on lung tumor development induced by this substance. At 5 mo, the tumor response was statistically the same for all groups of non-pretreated mice; however, the expected urethane-induced lung tumorigenesis was significantly inhibited by approximately 25% by ETSS and food restriction. This inhibition was accompanied by a threefold increase in blood corticosterone as a common stress marker for both ETSS and food restriction. At 9 mo, in mice not pretreated, the lung tumor incidence and multiplicity were significantly increased by twofold in the ETSS group; in the urethane-treated groups, the same high tumor multiplicity was reached regardless of previous treatment. The predominant tumor type in all groups was bronchiolo-alveolar adenoma. There was no induction of a specific K-ras mutation pattern by ETSS exposure. These data suggest a stress-induced inhibition of lung tumorigenesis in this model, explaining the need for the posttreatment period.