Different people clear nicotine out of their bodies at different speeds. Various types of tests can detect it over longer periods of time. The most common urine and saliva tests can spot it in most people’s systems for up to five days.
Whether you’ve been asked to take a test by an employer or are just curious about your health, you might be wondering: How long does nicotine stay in your system?
Spoiler: It varies from person to person. The type of test, along with your own metabolism, determines how long nicotine can be detected in your system. To avoid making an ash of yourself, here’s what science has to say on the topic.
Depending on the sample being tested, it’s possible to detect if someone’s been using nicotine for up to:
- 2–5 days with a urine test
- 5 days with a saliva test
- 10–12 days with a blood test
- 3 months with a hair test (potentially as long as 12 months for long-term users)
Some people clear nicotine from their system faster than others. Your body produces an enzyme with the catchy name of CYP2A6, which speeds up the half-life of nicotine. CYP2A6 is naturally more active in some people.
Likewise, some studies indicate that certain ethnic groups might clear nicotine out of their systems faster. The CDC advises that black people might metabolize nicotine slightly slower than white people. Another 2021 review suggests those of Japanese ancestry could process nicotine far slower.
The majority of tests for nicotine will use a sample of saliva or urine. Others might ask for a blood sample. Rarely, you might get asked to provide a sample of hair.
The samples you’re asked for will depend on the reason you’re being tested. Imagine you’re taking out a million-dollar life insurance policy, for example. The insurer is going to want to know you’re not a heavy smoker, they’re naturally going to want more information.
When your body metabolizes nicotine, it produces an alkaloid called cotinine. Most blood, saliva, urine, and hair tests actually test for cotinine because it stays in your body longer than nicotine. This makes tests more accurate but less forgiving.
As well as nicotine itself (obviously), these tests sometimes also look for other metabolites like trans-3′-hydroxycotinine and nornicotine. These are rarer and typically only get measured in more in-depth tests.
In most scenarios where you’d be asked to take a nicotine test, it wouldn’t make any difference whether you’re smoking or vaping. Nicotine is nicotine, regardless of how you get it into your body.
Vaping is still very new, with only a handful of years of data hinting at its real long-term effects. While some organizations see it as a viable route to quit smoking, others (like insurers) see it as no different. Until we know more, it’s safe to assume any test for nicotine will also treat vaping and smoking the same.
The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can include:
- craving for nicotine, usually via an urge to smoke
- feeling irritable, emotional, or grouchy
- general restlessness, anxiety, or nervousness
- trouble with concentration
- disruption to your normal sleep pattern
- increased appetite and unexpected weight gain
- digestive problems
These symptoms generally kick in within a few hours. They’re at their most noticeable for the first seven days. After that point, they typically calm down until they’re gone completely in two to four weeks.
Get some professional medical advice if you’re still experiencing withdrawal symptoms five or six weeks after quitting nicotine.
The sooner you stop using nicotine products, the quicker you’ll clear nicotine out of your system. In the meantime, there are things you can do to speed things up: