Epidemiological evidence suggests that ulcerative colitis is a disease of nonsmokers, while Crohn's disease is a disease of smokers. The relative risk of developing ulcerative colitis is not only greater in nonsmokers, in addition there appears to be a rebound effect in smokers who quit, with the heaviest (ex-)smokers increasing their relative risk of the disease the most. This factor poses an ethical dilemma for health professionals giving advice on stopping smoking, which may thus have a serious detrimental effect on the health of some patients. Nicotine is believed to be the pharmacological ingredient of tobacco that is responsible for this beneficial effect and several clinical trials using nicotine have demonstrated it to be an effective therapeutic agent in the treatment of ulcerative colitis. Although the aetiology of ulcerative colitis is unclear, current research using nicotine-based products has produced some interesting clues, together with the possibility of some form of therapeutic treatment based on nicotine administration.