The ability of nicotine to enhance the malignancy of cancer cells is known; however, the possibility that nicotine could regulate a cancer stem cell phenotype remains to be well-established. In this study we sought to determine whether long-term exposure to nicotine could promote cancer stem cell-like properties in two head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cell lines, UMSCC-10B and HN-1. Nicotine treatment induced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in both cell lines by repressing E-cadherin expression, and led to the induction of stem cell markers Oct-4, Nanog, CD44 and BMI-1, which was reversed upon ectopic re-expression of E-cadherin. Nicotine-treated cells formed spheres at a higher efficiency than non-treated cells, formed larger tumors when injected into mice, and formed tumors with 4-fold greater efficiency compared to control cells when injected at limiting doses. Consistent with previous literature, nicotine-treated cells demonstrated a greater capacity for survival and also a higher tendency to invade. Comparison of microRNA profiles between nicotine and control cells revealed the upregulation of miR-9, a repressor of E-cadherin, and the downregulation of miR-101, a repressor of EZH2. Taken together, these results suggest that nicotine may play a critical role in the development of tobacco-induced cancers by regulating cancer stem cell characteristics, and that these effects are likely mediated through EMT-promoting, microRNA-mediated pathways. Further characterization of such pathways remains a promising avenue for the understanding and treatment of tobacco-related cancers.