When most people think of a drug test, they tend to think of tests that look for the use of illegal substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and opiates. However, while such tests are indeed commonly used by employers to screen potential employees, there are also other drug tests that you need to be aware of.
As the health implications of tobacco smoking become ever more evident, many insurance companies and even some employers have begun screening for nicotine use. Smokers can face much higher health insurance  and life insurance premiums than their non-smoking counterparts, and smoking can also determine the outcome of a hiring decision.
Does Nicotine Show Up in a Drug Test?
Most smoking tests will look for a metabolite of nicotine called cotinine . This metabolite is produced as a result of your body processing nicotine. It will only be present in your body if you’ve been exposed to nicotine in some form. The reason these tests look for cotinine instead of nicotine is that it’s more stable and will persist longer in your body.
Tests for cotinine are usually carried out by using either blood or urine samples. Blood samples are generally more accurate and sensitive, but they are also more expensive and more difficult to obtain. There are also saliva tests that test for cotinine as well as hair follicle tests that can be used to detect the long-term use of tobacco products.
Modern tests are also smart enough to distinguish between people who use tobacco versus those who use nicotine patches. These tests look for nicotine, cotinine, and a compound called anabasine . Anabasine is found in tobacco, but it isn’t found in any other nicotine-replacement products. If you test negative for anabasine but positive for nicotine and cotinine, it means that you’re using a nicotine replacement. If you test positive for anabasine, it means that you’re still using some form of tobacco product.
It’s important to note that nicotine use won’t show up in regular drug tests that are used by employers in pre-employment tests. That’s because these tests are usually designed to determine whether a candidate can carry out their job without endangering the safety of themselves or others, and nicotine is generally considered to be non-impairing to job function. A nicotine drug test is usually only performed by insurance companies or doctors when they’re looking for evidence of smoking.
How Long Does Nicotine Last in the Body?
As soon as nicotine enters your bloodstream, it’s moved into your liver where it’s broken down into cotinine. The more nicotine you absorb, the more cotinine your body will produce. The kidneys eventually process both cotinine and nicotine, which are eliminated from your body as urine. How long these compounds stay in your urine will depend mainly on how you ingested the nicotine and how regularly you use nicotine products. Your body can only metabolize a certain amount of nicotine at a given time. So, the more nicotine you build up in your body, the longer it will take for this nicotine to be metabolized and excreted. Heavy smokers who used to chain-smoke daily can still have nicotine in their bodies a year after they stop smoking.
Nicotine drug tests rely on being able to detect nicotine in individual samples, either blood, urine, or saliva. Nicotine levels aren’t the same in all of these fluids, and will only be detectable for specific amounts of time.
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your Urine?
In general, cotinine will last up to four days in your urine, if you’re in an infrequent smoker. If you smoke regularly, this goes up to three weeks, even if you stop smoking completely. This is because your body can only process a certain amount of nicotine and cotinine at a time, and a build-up will take longer to process.
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your Blood?
Nicotine can stay in your bloodstream for up to three days and the metabolite, cotinine, can remain in your blood for up to ten days after your last smoke.
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your Hair?
Hair follicle tests rely on the fact that any compound found in your bloodstream will eventually be deposited onto your hair follicle. This means that hair follicle tests can still detect traces of nicotine months after your last smoke. Nicotine use can be detected for up to a year if the highest-quality test is used. Luckily, many insurance companies don’t rely on hair follicle testing as it’s much more expensive than urine or blood tests.
Factors Influencing How Long Nicotine Will Stay in Your Body
Even though there are general timelines for how quickly nicotine is metabolized and excreted by the body, these times can vary a lot from person to person. These factors can include:
How often you smoke. People who smoke infrequently will generally process nicotine faster than frequent smokers. People who smoke multiple cigarettes per day consistently can have detectable nicotine in their bodies for up to a year after they quit smoking.
Age. As people age, their liver and kidney functions slow down, meaning they process compounds slower than younger people.
Medication. There are some medications that can speed up the processing of nicotine, such as certain antibiotics. Other medications, such as antifungals and blood pressure medications, can slow down the processing of nicotine.
Hormones. There is evidence to show that estrogen can speed up the processing of nicotine. Pregnant women or women on HRT tend to metabolize nicotine more quickly than men.
Nicotine can stay in your body for up to a year after your last exposure. Traces of nicotine can be found in various body fluids as well as in your hair, all of which can be used to test for smoking. As a general guideline, nicotine can be detected for up to four days in your saliva and urine. It can be detected up to a year in your hair after your last cigarette.