Using a Cotinine Test and Why Smokers Should Quit

Pretty much everyone knows that smoking is extremely bad for your health. If you have the ability to quite smoking it’s highly recommended you. Smoking can lead to cancer and other upper respiratory infections. If you are going to be tested for your level of nicotine, you could be denied a specific job you are trying to land or you could have an extremely expensive health insurance policy. Your best bet to pass these tests is to quit smoking.

What chemicals arise from the nicotine in cigarettes?


Cotinine is an alkaloid in tobacco and is a highly poisonous, creating an active basis found in the poison hemlock. It is a substance necessary for causing a particular process within your metabolism.

Cotinine is also used as a biomarker or indicator that detects tobacco. This alkaloid will only have a half life after 20 hours but can be detected for one to two days after using tobacco.

A Test for That Detects SmokingĀ 

A cotinine drug test will show evidence of recent tobacco smoking and is used by employers, insurance companies and parents to determine if a person has smoked recently.

As cotinine is a chemical that your body creates after being exposed to nicotine, it is easier to detect than nicotine. Nicotine disappears from your system in as little as a few hours. Cotinine, on the other hand, will stick around for a few days.

Therefore a urine test is actually looking for any levels of cotinine. A cotinine test is the easiest and least expensive way to test for nicotine.

How does the cotinine test work?

A cotinine test strip is dipped into the urine sample for approximately 5 minutes. The results will either show a positive for cotinine detection or a negative — no cotinine found.

If tobacco has not been used after 3 or 4 days, the levels of nicotine and cotinine will not be detectable.

Sometimes your doctor will run a cotinine test in order to determine the effectiveness of a medication a patient is on to quit smoking. This will help him or her decide if the right dosage in a nicotine patch, or other medication, is helping or not.

Are various smoking deterrents read by tests for nicotine?

Whether using a nicotine patch or something else, the cotinine test will show positive. Once ingested, even for medical reasons, there will be a positive reading if the level of cotinine is acceptable.

Are there other forms of testing for tobacco?

Testing for carbon monoxide can be more of a detector for tobacco use and is done with a special machine that locates its existence in the respiratory system.

Just because I smoke, does that mean Carbon Monoxide will be detected?

Carbon monoxide is a clear and odourless gas produced by burning any carbon based substance. As Carbon monoxide is present in tobacco, once inhaled it is quickly absorbed into the blood stream. It is detectable up to 24 hours after the last use of tobacco. If you smoke, you have CO in your blood stream.

Carbon monoxide binds with the haemoglobin in red blood cells 200 times more than oxygen. The heart has to work twice as hard to supply the proper amount of oxygen to the body. High levels of carbon monoxide in the blood is what causes increased cardiovascular diseases including heart attacks. Carbon monoxide, in the bloodstream of smokers, is much higher than those who do not smoke. With special testing, there will be a definite positive in tests for CO.

Do E-Cigarettes show positive on a Cotinine Test?

In recent years, many tobacco smokers have changed from smoking traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes. Part of the reason behind this trend is the perceived health benefit to users. A World Health Organisation study into the topic states that smokers may see their health improve because e-cigarettes and other vaping devices produce far lower levels of the most harmful chemicals that you inhale when you smoke. However, as E-cigarettes still contain nicotine, a cotinine drug test will show positive when you test.

In Conclusion:

The best alternative for a negative test for cotinine is to quit smoking. Work with your doctor to find a medical treatment to make this happen. Smoking has so many negative side effects including heart disease, upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The list goes on and on and it would be pretty difficult to cover them all.

Smoking is extremely addictive and is a very difficult habit to break. Staying positive and being determined to quit this habit is your best and only alternative to better health.

If you do not smoke don’t even think about starting. It is extremely hard to kick the habit and your health will always be worse then those who never smoke!

Further Reading

The NHS offers excellent help for those that would like to quit smoking on its smokefree website.

Where to buy a Cotinine Test

You can buy Cotinine Tests from Zoom Testing

Photo by Itay Kabalo on Unsplash

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

This post was originally published in May 2014 and has been updated since.

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