If you’ve ever wanted to know how long does tobacco stay in your system, how long does nicotine stay in urine, or how long does nicotine stay in blood, be sure to check out our full guide to passing a nicotine test.
It is undeniable that smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health long term, it is after all the number one cause around the world of preventable deaths. In that light, it makes sense then that nicotine testing, the most reliable way to tell if someone smokes, is becoming more prevalent among insurance companies and employers. Sometimes these tests are held as a condition of employment, more frequently they relate to determining the cost of health and life insurance policies. The results of these tests could have a significant impact on the cost of your insurance. With that being the case, some of the questions we get very often are does nicotine show up on a drug test, and how to get nicotine out of your system fast.
While this indeed works as an incentive to quit smoking, these employers and insurance agencies are entirely disregarding that there is a difference between nicotine absorbed through combustible cigarette smoking and NRTs, nicotine replacement therapies. This means people already working to quit, or people who vape e-liquids with nicotine regularly are at risk for testing positive and suffering through the loss of employment or a higher cost of insurance. The implications of failing these tests are massive for some people, the difference in hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. That is why it is essential for people using NRTs to know how to get around this, so we created this guide of what you need to know to pass a nicotine test.
How Long Does It Stay
The first step is understanding how long nicotine stays in your system, and the answer is honestly, not long. The actual substance of nicotine itself can only be traced in your blood for one to three days, and in urine for up to four. But that is where it starts to get tricky. Most nicotine tests are not looking for nicotine itself, but instead searching for a substance called cotinine.
Cotinine is the metabolized version of nicotine. There are a lot of factors and variables that affect how long cotinine stays in your system. These include gender, ethnic background, diet, and medications. One example, a man is likely to test with higher levels of nicotine than a woman when they last consumed nicotine at the same time. So while the majority of the time you can pass the cotinine test after a week without nicotine, some people can test positive up to three weeks out. So a good rule of thumb is to avoid ingesting nicotine for at least three weeks before your scheduled test.
Nicotine Test Types
There are a few different types of testing that your employer or insurer may opt to use. The most common tests are blood, urine, saliva, and sometimes hair. Each of these different types of tests has their pros and cons, so let’s take a more in-depth look at each.
Your first question is likely how long does nicotine stay in your blood. Of the common test types, blood tests are by far the most invasive. They are also quite expensive; requiring employees to visit a lab so a trained technician can take the blood. These inconveniences along with the cost mean that this is a less frequently used type of test.
The other side of the coin is that blood tests are incredibly accurate. They can test for both nicotine and cotinine, with two different types of tests available. One is a simple pass/fail, while the other breaks down the exact percentage of the nicotine and cotinine levels in your blood.
Easier to conduct, and at a much lower cost, saliva testing is rapidly becoming a very popular option. For this test, the employer will be sent swabs and self-sealing containers. The individual or supervisor swabs the individual’s mouth, before sealing it in a container and sending it off to a lab.
Saliva testing is less accurate than other types of testing, being able to register ⅓ the levels of a blood test and 1/15 the levels detectable in a urine test. It’s because of this loss in accuracy that employers or insurance may choose to opt for alternate tests.
It’s also fair to wonder precisely how long does nicotine stay in your urine. Urine is a fairly standard test to perform. Once you provide the lab with your urine sample, a test strip is soaked that will present either a positive or negative reading. On top of being simple and relatively low-cost, urine testing is extremely accurate, the most accurate of the three most common methods.
Nicotine and cotinine are traceable in your urine for much longer than any of the other testing methods. Furthermore, because there is a higher concentration of nicotine, cotinine, and other potentially testable materials in urine there is a much higher likeliness of testing positive longer and within a smaller margin. It’s because of these factors that the nicotine urine test has become the most popular drug testing method.
Testing hair for cotinine is the most accurate and reliable method for insurance companies and employers to utilize. It is also the least common of the tests you will run into, due to the considerable hassle involved as well as the expense.
That said, while it is uncommon in general, it is most often used to determine the truth when other tests are inconclusive. While the accuracy has a lot to do with the that, the more significant reason for this is that hair tests can contain trace levels of cotinine up to three months after ingestion.
Avoiding a Fail
There are many products or homemade remedies that claim to be able to flush your system within just a few days. It is questionable at best whether any such claims are valid. Some people swear by these treatments, but as we discussed earlier, there are a lot of variables that go into the speed at which some people’s systems can be cleared. Generally, it is not safe to rely on these kinds of snake oil.
Honestly, unless you are lifelong, very heavy smoker, most people can pass within a week of stopping nicotine intake. The vast majority will be able to get negative results within two. That said, to be safe if you have three weeks warning for the test it would not hurt to abstain from nicotine for the full time to be sure.
Stopping nicotine intake is not easy, but there could be substantial gains in doing it, especially concerning testing. For vapers the best option is to start using a zero nicotine version of your favorite e-liquid, for as long as possible, leading up to the test. Smokers should also pursue the option of vaping zero-nicotine e-liquids, as it will help them pass the test. It also helps to stay on top of hydration, as drinking plenty of water will help flush lingering cotinine out of your system. It is incredible how with just a little effort so many people can pass a nicotine test.
Why It Matters
While on paper it is simple to say switch to zero-nic and drink water, it’s a lot more difficult for some than others. Your body and the many variables discussed earlier can also affect, even given all your best efforts. So if after all that your nicotine test comes back as a fail then you will have to face the consequences, whether that be losing that job opportunity, being denied insurance or paying more for health or life insurance.
For vapers, there is some small hope that things will change. With all of the studies coming out showing how much safer vaping is than smoking officials may be persuaded. There are currently a few insurance companies that have updated their guidelines for policyholders who vape or use other NRT’s. Other companies have started to offer discounts for individuals who fail a nicotine test but are willing to do phone interviews and counseling about their nicotine habits. At this point though, the number of companies offering these options is very small, with most simply using the pass or fail result of the nicotine test.
The majority of the general public still views vaping as being just as, if not worse, than smoking for your health. This is not the truth, as study after study continues to tout the benefits of vaping as a smoking cessation and harm reduction tool. As these studies continue to be published and supported, companies will become more willing to change their guidelines on the matter.
Until this changes, until vaping is more accepted, it is useful for users of NRTs to abstain for as long as possible before their test. Ultimately getting the job, saving on health insurance, or being approved for life insurance will benefit you long term. Keep that in mind; it will help with the struggle of staying off nicotine and allow you to seek support from friends or fellow vapers when you need it.