how long does nictoine stay in your system

How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?

Do you have your eyes on a new job? Are you seeking health or life insurance? You might be tested for drugs, including nicotine. It is becoming more common for employers to hire employees that are non-smokers. In certain locations, you might not get the job if you have a nicotine habit and it is legal to not employ you on this basis.

What is being tested?

The addictive chemical found in the leaves of the tobacco plant is known as Nicotine. When tobacco is smoked or chewed, nicotine is taken into the body. Once in the bloodstream the chemical is metabolised into over 20 different compounds which are eventually removed in urine by the kidneys.

The main metabolite, or breakdown product, of nicotine is known as cotinine. As well as through smoking, levels of nicotine and cotinine are increased in the body when you are trying to give up. Often nicotine replacment products will contain these chemicals in gums, patches and e-cigarette liquids.

The presence of Cotinine in the body is a reliable indication of tobacco use or exposure. The half life of Cotinine in the body is normally somewhere between 7 and 40 hours. Nicotine,on the other hand, is no longer detectable after only 4 hours.

The nicotine in cigars, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipes and snuff is very addictive. Most people are unaware that nicotine has been also found in vapes and e-cigarettes. In the UK, it is illegal to sell products containing tobacco to those less than 18 years old. (Some MP’s have lobbied to increase this to the age of 21)

Nicotine Drug Test Kits

Drug test kits detect the component parts such as cotinine when your body breaks down nicotine. Cotinine only appears in the body if you have ingested nicotine and it lingers in the body, even after you have stopped using nicotine.

If you are being drug tested at work, you should be aware of your rights as an employee. In the UK an employer cannot discriminate against an employee if they are a smoker, however in may be in your best interests to consider stopping smoking.

How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?

  • Urine: Up to four days
  • Blood: Up to four days
  • Saliva: Up to four days
  • Hair: Up to 90 days

How Quickly Do You Feel The Effects Of Nicotine?

It only takes 20 seconds for the effects of nicotine to reach the brain when it is smoked and seeps into the bloodstream. Although users feel relaxed after smoking, nicotine is actually a stimulant and directly affects the central nervous system.

The way the nicotine is administered will determine how it impacts the body. Snorting or chewing products with nicotine results in more nicotine released into the body compared to smoking.

Users experience an adrenaline rush once they ingest nicotine, which acts as a stimulant in the body. This could result in a spike in heart rate and blood pressure. Nicotine also increases dopamine, a brain chemical that increases feelings of pleasure and overall mood.

How Long Does Nicotine Affect The Body?

The half-life of nicotine is around 2 hours. The length of time it takes to eliminate half of the nicotine dose from your system is the half-life.

As nicotine or other tobacco products are ingested via smoking, most of it is absorbed into the system via the lungs. It is also absorbed via the mouth and throat membranes, but this isn’t as common. When you chew nicotine gum or tobacco, use patches or lozenges, nicotine is absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract or skin.

The liver metabolizes most of the nicotine; however, the kidneys and lungs also metabolize some of it. The kidneys excrete traces of nicotine by way of urine. Nicotine also appears in the feces, hair and saliva.

The enzymes in the liver metabolize nicotine and break it down into metabolites like cotinine.  Instead of looking for nicotine itself, nicotine tests focus on finding cotinine. There are a number of tests that are used for detecting nicotine in the body.


The frequency and dosage of nicotine will determine how much of it appears in the urine. Nicotine might only be detected in urine for 4 days for infrequent smokers. For frequent smokers, nicotine is detectable for up to 3 weeks. A cotinine drug test kit for urine is used to test for evidence of smoking.


Nicotine along with its metabolites like cotinine and anabasine is detectable in the blood. Although nicotine is detectable in the blood for as long as 3 days, cotinine is tractable for as long as 10 days.


Following last use, nicotine and cotinine are detectable in saliva for up to 4 days. Collecting samples could prove challenging due to excessive salivation or dry mouth. A technician will test oral fluids for nicotine by swabbing the inside of the mouth for saliva drug testing,


Similar to other substances, nicotine is detectable via hair follicle testing, where it could stay for extended periods. This test is more costly and not used as often compared to other tests. The test can be administered at home or at a lab. Hair follicles are used to determine if the user smoked over the past 90 days. It takes anywhere from 1 to 5 days to get results.

Detection Time Is Affected By The Following Factors

The length of time that nicotine is detectable in the system depends on the kind of test being administered. Factors that affect the speed in which your system handles nicotine include:

  • Age: As you age, excreting nicotine becomes increasingly difficult.
  • Body mass: Nicotine will stay in your body longer if you have increased body fat since fatty tissue stores nicotine.
  • Hydration level: Water consumption accelerates nicotine secretion.
  • Level of physical activity: Those who have a higher metabolism and are more active physically tend to excrete nicotine quicker.
  • Type, frequency, and history of use: The system accumulates nicotine, therefore the more you ingest, the longer it takes your body to eliminate it.

Photo by Jeroen Bosch on Unsplash

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

This post was originally published in January 2015 and has been updated since.

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