Nicotine elimination and tolerance in non-dependent cigarette smokers
- Cite this article as:
- Shiffman, S., Zettler-Segal, M., Kassel, J. et al. Psychopharmacology (1992) 109: 449. doi:10.1007/BF02247722
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Although most smokers are nicotine-dependent, recent studies suggest that some very light smokers (“chippers”, who smoke fewer than five cigarettes per day) may smoke for decades without developing dependence. It was considered that slowed nicotine elimination and/or reduced nicotine tolerance might underlie chippers' ability to maintain smoking at such low levels. To evaluate this hypothesis, we studied the elimination kinetics and pharmacodynamics of nicotine in chippers and matched regular smokers. Plasma nicotine levels and cardiovascular responses were observed for several hours after subjects were administered uniform doses of tobacco smoke. Chippers did show less chronic nicotine tolerance, but only on some response measures. Their rates of nicotine elimination equaled those of regular smokers. This finding, when coupled with other data about chippers' smoking patterns and nicotine absorption, establish that chippers cannot maintain substantial plasma nicotine levels between cigarettes, and thus suggest that attempts to maintain minimal trough levels of nicotine do not underlie chippers' smoking.