Cotinine is the major metabolite of nicotine in man. We studied cotinine disposition kinetics in 28 healthy habitual cigarette smokers. Eight subjects received cotinine fumarate, 4 micrograms base/kg/min IV for 60 min. Mean (+/- SD) metabolic clearance was 60 +/- 12 ml/min and mean renal clearance was 12 +/- 5 ml/min, averaging 17% of total clearance. Steady-state volume of distribution was slightly greater than body weight (mean 88 +/- 17 l). Terminal t 1/2 averaged 15.8 +/- 4.0 hr in these eight subjects and 19.7 +/- 6.5 hr in another 12 subjects who abstained from smoking for 3 days. The effect of urinary acidification and alkalinization on renal clearance of cotinine during cigarette smoking was studied in another group of eight subjects. Compared with baseline (mean urinary pH 5.8, renal clearance 12.3 +/- 5.9 ml/min), renal clearance was increased about 50% by urinary acidification (pH 4.4, clearance 18.6 +/- 10 ml/min), but it was not affected by alkalinization (pH 6.7, clearance 14.0 +/- 10.4 ml/min). Infusion of cotinine to blood concentrations seen in moderately heavy smokers had no effect on heart rate, blood pressure, or skin temperature, measures that are sensitive to effects of nicotine. No spontaneous subjective effects were reported. We conclude that, at levels to which cigarette smokers are generally exposed, cotinine exerts no cardiovascular activity and weak, if any, psychologic activity.