Puffs from cigarettes are the fundamental unit of smoking reward. Here, we examined the extent to which reward from puffs can be derived from the airway sensory effect of nicotine, in the absence of a direct central nervous system effect of nicotine. We did this by assessing the self-reported reward obtained from individual puffs from nicotinized, denicotinized and unlit cigarettes within 7 s of inhalation, which is before nicotine had an opportunity to reach the brain. We also assessed the self-reported strength of airway sensations elicited by the puffs. We found that nicotinized puffs were rated as both stronger and more rewarding than denicotinized and unlit puffs. We also found that the extent to which nicotine elicited reward was directly correlated with the extent to which nicotine elicited airway sensations. This indicates that the airway sensory effects of nicotine contribute to the reward from puffs, above and beyond the reward derived from the airway sensory effects of non-nicotine constituents. These findings have implications for the interpretation of studies that use puffs as experimental units to examine nicotine reward. They also have implications for the use of denicotinized and low nicotine cigarettes as aids to smoking cessation.