In two experiments, we used a progressive ratio schedule to explore factors associated with smoking motivation. In study 1, smokers who had abstained for more than 8 h bar-pressed for longer to obtain puffs on a cigarette than did non-deprived smokers. Neither group, however, showed nicotine-induced improvements in performance on an attention-demanding task. In the second study, two groups of minimally deprived smokers worked on the progressive ratio task for puffs of either a standard or an ultralow nicotine cigarette. The amount of work expended for puffs was the same for both cigarettes. The groups were also indistinguishable in terms of their subjective experience of the impact of smoking. These results suggest that the addition of nicotine to the cigarette may not have an immediate impact on the effort expended for a puff on that cigarette, and that short term changes in craving may be observed independent of satiety effects associated with nicotine ingestion. We conclude that the progressive ratio task is a useful and sensitive measure of desire to smoke, although the two experiments highlight the complexity of the relationship between subjective, objective and behavioural measures of smoking and nicotine ingestion in humans.