How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?

You absorb nicotine into your bloodstream every time you inhale smoke from a cigarette or chew tobacco. However, people are often interested in how long nicotine remains in their system for employment and health insurance purposes.

Although it’s unfair, many health insurance companies and employers fail to differentiate between people who consume nicotine in safer forms (smokeless tobacco or vaping) and cigarette smokers. In addition, employers often deem nicotine gum—which the FDA has approved for long-term usage—as a health risk that creates higher insurance costs for companies.

With all that said, you must know how long nicotine stays in your system; otherwise, it could present many unwanted problems.

Let’s take a deeper look into how long nicotine stays in your system:

How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your Body?

Although there are numerous tests for nicotine—including blood tests—it’s challenging to detect it in your blood after three days. If you take a urine test, nicotine is unlikely to show in your urine after four days. As a result, most insurers no longer care about how long nicotine stays within your body.

However, most importantly, they now test for a substance named cotinine, which is a metabolite of nicotine. After you consume nicotine, your liver turns it into cotinine.

Here’s the big problem: tests can detect cotinine in your body for up to three weeks. Yikes. The duration cotinine stays in your system depends on your ethnic background, gender, medications used, and possibly your diet. Men often have higher cotinine levels than women—but it depends.

Here’s a breakdown of some factors that determine how long cotinine stays in your body:

  • Your smoke levels – How much tobacco do you smoke? The amount of nicotine you smoke leads to more cotinine in your body.
  • Your genes – Every person has a different metabolism, so everyone breaks down cotinine differently. The CDC even suggests that non-Hispanic black people may metabolize cotinine slower than non-Hispanic white people.
  • Your age – If you’re over 65, your body will take more time to process the nicotine.
  • Your diet – Clearing nicotine depends on your liver function, so eating healthy foods and having a better functioning liver can impact how long nicotine stays in your body.
  • Kidney function – If you have kidney issues or you’ve suffered from kidney failure—your body will take longer to clear nicotine and cotinine.

Let’s look at the different tests people may use to find cotinine in your body:

The Different Tests Used to Find Nicotine

1. Blood Tests

Blood tests are the most common tests used to find cotinine; blood tests are also the most accurate test. However, it’s also the most invasive and expensive test—but some companies don’t mind the added stress to ensure they have accurate results.

Blood testing requires a trained technician to complete the process. You’ll also have to attend a lab. However, there are two types of blood tests for cotinine: a straightforward negative or positive test or a test to specify the total level of nicotine in your blood. Either way, these tests are accurate, expensive, and often stressful.

2. Saliva Testing

Many companies have opted for saliva tests in recent years because they are sensitive, straightforward to conduct, and inexpensive. Third-party labs often send a testing kit to employers so they can complete the test directly for the office. As a result, you won’t have to mess around visiting a laboratory.

To complete the test, someone will take a swab from your mouth before inserting it into a self-sealing container. Then, the company will ship the swab to the lab and wait for the results. The company will then send the results back via phone or the internet.

3. Urine Testing

Urine testing is another sensitive method of finding cotinine in your system. Urine typically contains six times more cotinine than saliva or blood. Therefore, it’s an excellent way to discover lower levels of cotinine.

In addition, urine testing is simple. You simply soak a test strip in urine for two minutes. After that, the test will deliver a result within two minutes. You can complete the test from home or in the office.

4. Hair Testing

Hair testing is possibly the least common method of testing for cotinine because it’s the slowest, most expensive, and most challenging. If the results of a test are unclear or suspicious, a company may order hair testing.

The primary benefit of hair testing is the ability to detect cotinine in your system for up to three months. However, it’s unlikely you’ll have to complete hair testing unless the company is determined to find clarity.

How Can I Avoid a Positive Test?

So now you understand the four most common tests, you’re probably thinking: how on earth do I avoid testing positive for cotinine?

Various companies claim to remove nicotine from your body, but are they reliable? That’s debatable. Fortunately, most smokers will test negative after one to two weeks. So, if you stop smoking in advance of your test—you should be fine.

Should you spend money on these nicotine cleansing products? That’s entirely up to you, but you’re probably better off saving money and drinking plenty of water instead.

Here are some tips to avoid a positive test:

  1. Exercise – working out is an excellent way to clear nicotine and cotinine faster.
  2. Drink water – Many people don’t drink enough water every day. Still, it’s one of the best ways to flush nicotine and cotinine out of your body. Men should drink around 4 liters of water daily, and women should drink approximately 2 liters daily.
  3. Eating foods with high anti-oxidants – Foods with high anti-oxidants—such as blueberries, dark chocolate, strawberries, and pecans—can remove nicotine and cotinine from your body faster.

How Many Insurance Companies Test for Nicotine

Many insurance companies test for nicotine because it can affect health insurance policies. Nonetheless, many companies have changed their guidelines and now allow insurance policyholders to vape and use smokeless tobacco—which is excellent news. However, some allow cigar smoking without raising their premiums.

If you want to buy life or health insurance, you should shop around to find the best policy. Look for companies with fair policies on nicotine usage.

The Common Side Effects of Nicotine Leaving Your System

If you have an upcoming nicotine test and need to remove nicotine traces from your body, you may feel some unwanted side effects. Remember, nicotine is like any drug; it makes your body feel dependent and leaves you feeling sluggish when you remove it.

That’s why many people decrease their nicotine intake slowly instead of going ‘cold turkey.’ Unfortunately, a slow withdrawal may not be possible if you need a sudden nicotine test.

Common nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Increased hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Heavy headaches
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia

These symptoms may begin with the first three hours of smoking your last cigarette or vaping nicotine. Various factors—including age, the type of tobacco product, and how much you smoke—can determine how severe and how long your symptoms last. You should try nicotine patches if you start to feel horrible side effects; these can reduce your symptoms and prevent you from returning to smoking.

Smoking vs. Vaping: Does it affect How Long Nicotine Stays in Your System?

If you enjoy vaping, you may wonder whether nicotine tests differ depending on whether you smoked or vaped. Vaping is a modern method of inhalation, so there’s not much research on how much nicotine people consume when inhaling it. Therefore, it’s challenging to judge how long nicotine may stay in your body after vaping.

Some studies suggest that vaping delivers less nicotine than cigarettes, but other reports indicate vaping leaves more nicotine in the bloodstream. In addition, vape solutions contain different nicotine quantities, and vaping labels are often misleading regarding the nicotine content.

Researchers are continuing their studies into smoking vs. vaping through the following factors:

  • The amount of nicotine in the vaping solution.
  • The efficiency of the vaping device.
  • The differences in how people use vaping devices—such as length of inhalation and frequency.
Nicotine Tobacco Drug Patch

The Best Way to Quit Nicotine

Quitting nicotine is seldom easy. For millions of people worldwide, removing nicotine causes terrible side effects—including headaches, fatigue, and nausea. Therefore, you need to prepare yourself for quitting nicotine by following these steps:

  1. Know your reason – Many people who struggle to quit nicotine don’t fully know the reason for quitting. As a result, when the side effects begin, they go back to smoking nicotine. If you’re quitting nicotine to avoid positive tests, you already have your reason. Whenever you start to struggle, you can remind yourself of why you’re quitting.
  2. Decide to quit – Deciding to quit nicotine is the most crucial step. Without fully committing to quitting, it will always be a wish instead of a successful plan.
  3. Take steps to quit – Now it’s time to take manageable steps towards quitting. You can do this by removing all nicotine from your house, choosing a nicotine-free alternative, and writing down your goals on paper.
  4. Recognize and mitigate side effects – You’re likely to feel side effects when you quit nicotine; that’s just reality. You can reduce these side effects by working out, meditating, and spending time with friends.
  5. Consider nicotine replacement therapy – When you quit smoking nicotine, you can use nicotine replacement therapy to get you through the struggle. You can use pills, nicotine gum, and patches to improve your chances of success.
  6. Avoid secondhand smoke – Avoiding secondhand smoke is essential when you’re quitting. If your friends smoke, let them know you’re quitting smoking. They will understand if you want to stay away from them whenever they smoke nicotine.
  7. Give yourself a break – It can be challenging to quit nicotine when busy with work commitments. You should give yourself a break from work to quit nicotine. An excellent time to remove nicotine is during a vacation. It’s far easier to stop smoking when you’re at the beach.
  8. Avoid your triggers – Everyone who enjoys smoking nicotine has various triggers. These could be alcohol or certain foods. If drinking beer encourages you to smoke nicotine, stay away from beer for a few weeks until your cravings subside.

The Best Alternatives to Nicotine

If you’re quitting nicotine because of an upcoming test, it’s not the end of the world. There are various alternatives to smoking nicotine.

Here are the best options:

  1. Nicotine-free vapes – If you’re looking to continue vaping, you should try nicotine-free vapes. They are non-addictive and safer than smoking.
  2. CBD oil – Vaping CBD oil is an excellent option if you want to keep vaping, quit nicotine, and enjoy various health benefits. Millions of people suggest CBD oil is excellent for reducing stress and easing pain.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to determine how long nicotine will stay in your body. It depends on your body, the type of test, and how you consume nicotine. The best way to avoid a positive test is to quit nicotine at least two weeks before your test. That way, you can significantly minimize the chances of a positive test.

If an employer or an insurance provider has demanded a test within days, you can minimize—but not remove—the chances of a positive test by working out and drinking plenty of water.

Although quitting nicotine can feel challenging, you can do it if you follow the tips in this article.


Jules M
Jules M
Jules is our vaping font of knowledge. He has been a passionate vaping supporter since 2013 and spends his time trying to educate people with ‘facts’ on the safety and benefits of vaping.

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