Smoking one cigarette produces rapid nicotine dose-related increases in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis hormones, mood, and heart rate, but relatively little is known about the effects of smoking several cigarettes successively. Twenty-four healthy adult men who met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) criteria for nicotine dependence provided informed consent. After overnight abstinence from smoking, men smoked three low- or high-nicotine cigarettes for 4 min each at 60 min intervals. Samples for nicotine and hormone analysis, Visual Analog Scale (VAS) ratings of subjective effects and heart rate were collected at 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 30, 40, and 50 min after each cigarette. After low-nicotine cigarettes, nicotine levels, adrenocorticotropin hormone, and heart rate did not increase significantly, cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone decreased significantly, and positive VAS ratings were lower but parallel to ratings after high-nicotine cigarette smoking. After high-nicotine cigarettes, peak nicotine levels increased monotonically. HPA axis hormones increased after smoking, but peak levels did not differ significantly after successive high-nicotine cigarettes. Positive VAS ratings and heart rate increased after each high-nicotine cigarette, but peak levels were lower after smoking the second and third cigarette. 'Craving' decreased significantly after smoking both low- and high-nicotine cigarettes, then gradually increased during the 60 min interval between cigarettes. These data are consistent with clinical reports that the first cigarette after overnight nicotine abstinence is most salient. Tolerance to the subjective and cardiovascular effects of nicotine developed rapidly during repeated cigarette smoking, but nicotine-stimulated increases in HPA axis hormones did not change significantly.