Advertisements suggest that smokers of cigarettes low in nicotine are exposed to less nicotine and tar. Nicotine yields are measured with smoking machines, but machines do not smoke cigarettes as people do. We therefore measured the actual nicotine content of commercial cigarettes with different nicotine and tar yields as determined with smoking machines, and also measured actual nicotine intake as indicated by blood concentrations of its metabolite, cotinine, in 272 subjects smoking various brands of cigarettes. We found that low-yield cigarette tobacco did not contain less nicotine; in fact, the nicotine concentration in tobacco inversely correlated (r = -0.53, P less than 0.05) with the concentration measured by smoking machines. Blood cotinine concentrations correlated with the number of cigarettes smoked per day but not with the nicotine yield measured by smoking machines. Only 3.8 to 5.0 per cent of total variance in blood cotinine was contributed by nicotine yield. We conclude that smokers of low-nicotine cigarettes do not consume less nicotine.