The present study examined how systemic low doses of nicotine affect the microstructure of food-reinforced behavior in rats. Rats were given an acute saline or nicotine treatment (0.1-0.6 mg/kg, resting at least 48 h between injections), and a chronic saline or nicotine treatment (0.3 mg/kg for 10 consecutive days). Immediately after treatment, rats were required to press a lever to obtain food, whose availability was unpredictable, but programmed at a constant rate (on average every 80 s). Acute nicotine dose-dependently suppressed behavior prior to the delivery of the first reinforcer, but enhanced food-reinforced behavior afterwards. This effect was primarily observed in the time it took rats to initiate food-seeking behavior, and not in the food-seeking behavior itself. A pre-feeding control procedure suggests that these effects cannot be explained only by changes in appetite. Over the course of chronic nicotine exposure, tolerance developed to the suppressive, but not to the enhancing effects of nicotine on food-seeking behavior. These results suggest that ostensive sensitization effects of nicotine on behavior may instead reflect a tolerance for its suppressive effects on behavior.