Fluorescence in situ hybridization with chromosome-specific composite DNA probes (chromosome painting) is a reliable and efficient method for detecting structural chromosome aberrations. Painting is now being used to quantify chromosome damage in many human populations. In one such study we evaluated 91 unexposed people ranging in age from birth (cord bloods) to 79. We established a baseline frequency of stable aberrations that showed a highly significant curvilinear increase with age (p < 0.00001) that accounted for 70% of the variance among donors. The magnitude of this effect illustrates the importance of understanding the cytogenetic changes that occur with age, which is particularly important for quantifying the effects of prior adverse environmental, occupational, or accidental exposure. In this paper we use the data obtained in our previous study to characterize the distribution of stable aberrations by age and pack-years of cigarette smoking. We also provide estimates of the number of cell equivalents that need to be scored to detect a given increase in aberrations above the background level surveyed in this population.