Drug interactions with tobacco smoking. An update

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1999 Jun;36(6):425-38. doi: 10.2165/00003088-199936060-00004.


Cigarette smoking remains highly prevalent in most countries. It can affect drug therapy by both pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic mechanisms. Enzymes induced by tobacco smoking may also increase the risk of cancer by enhancing the metabolic activation of carcinogens. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in tobacco smoke are believed to be responsible for the induction of cytochrome P450 (CYP) 1A1, CYP1A2 and possibly CYP2E1, CYP1A1 is primarily an extrahepatic enzyme found in lung and placenta. There are genetic polymorphisms in the inducibility of CYP1A1, with some evidence that high inducibility is more common in patients with lung cancer. CYP1A2 is a hepatic enzyme responsible for the metabolism of a number of drugs and activation of some procarcinogens. Caffeine demethylation, using blood clearance or urine metabolite data, has been used as an in vivo marker of CYP1A2 activity, clearly demonstrating an effect of cigarette smoking, CYP2E1 metabolises a number of drugs as well as activating some carcinogens. Our laboratory has found in an intraindividual study that cigarette smoking significantly enhances CYP2E1 activity as measured by the clearance of chlorzoxazone. In animal studies, nicotine induces the activity of several enzymes, including CYP2E1, CYP2A1/2A2 and CYP2B1/2B2, in the brain, but whether this effect is clinically significant is unknown. Similarly, although inhibitory effects of the smoke constituents carbon monoxide and cadmium on CYP enzymes have been observed in vitro and in animal studies, the relevance of this inhibition to humans has not yet been established. The mechanism involved in most interactions between cigarette smoking and drugs involves the induction of metabolism. Drugs for which induced metabolism because of cigarette smoking may have clinical consequence include theophylline, caffeine, tacrine, imipramine, haloperidol, pentazocine, propranolol, flecainide and estradiol. Cigarette smoking results in faster clearance of heparin, possibly related to smoking-related activation of thrombosis with enhanced heparin binding to antithrombin III. Cutaneous vasoconstriction by nicotine may slow the rate of insulin absorption after subcutaneous administration. Pharmacodynamic interactions have also been described. Cigarette smoking is associated with a lesser magnitude of blood pressure and heart rate lowering during treatment with beta-blockers, less sedation from benzodiazepines and less analgesia from some opioids, most likely reflecting the effects of the stimulant actions of nicotine. The impact of cigarette smoking needs to be considered in planning and assessing responses to drug therapy. Cigarette smoking should be specifically studied in clinical trials of new drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbon Monoxide / pharmacology
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / biosynthesis
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Drug Interactions*
  • Enzyme Induction
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy / pharmacology
  • Nicotine / pharmacology
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Plants, Toxic
  • Polycyclic Compounds / pharmacology
  • Smoke*
  • Smoking*
  • Tobacco


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Polycyclic Compounds
  • Smoke
  • Nicotine
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System