Smoking in the absence of nicotine: behavioral, subjective and physiological effects over 11 days

Addiction. 2007 Feb;102(2):324-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2006.01670.x.


Aims: Sensorimotor stimuli associated with tobacco smoking influence smoking behavior; however, current research has focused almost exclusively on the effects of brief, laboratory-based exposure to smoking-related stimuli. The purpose of this experiment was to characterize the effects of smoking stimuli delivered in the absence of nicotine over an extended (11-day) exposure.

Design, setting and participants: Thirty adult regular smokers participated in an in-patient study. After assessing preferred brand smoking, participants were assigned randomly to one of three groups corresponding to subsequent smoking conditions: nicotine-containing cigarettes, de-nicotinized cigarettes or no smoking.

Measurements: Measures of smoking reinforcement, subjective effects, physiological effects, withdrawal/craving and puff topography were taken repeatedly during both periods of free access and controlled assessments during abstinence.

Findings: Daily de-nicotinized cigarette use declined immediately by 1.7 cigarettes/day compared to the preferred brand baseline and declined by another 3.5 cigarettes over time; participants smoking de-nicotinized cigarettes also demonstrated a 31% decline in the number of puffs earned on a progressive ratio, a measure of the motivation to smoke, during the study. Subjective ratings of smoking were largely negative throughout the study in the de-nicotinized group, while the nicotine-containing condition reported increasingly positive subjective effects with repeated exposure. Acute craving suppression following smoking remained evident throughout the study regardless of nicotine content.

Conclusions: These effects highlight the importance of non-nicotine sensorimotor stimuli as determinants of the maintenance of smoking behavior and suggests that extinction of conditioned reinforcement in the absence of nicotine progresses slowly.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotine*
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Sleep / drug effects
  • Smoking / physiopathology*
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Nicotine