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Do Drug Tests Check for Nicotine?

There are a litany of reasons that one might take a drug test. When applying for a new job or looking for life or health insurance, taking a drug test is pretty typical. But are you aware that testing for nicotine can also be a part of the process? 

Although nicotine is not a controlled substance like cocaine or amphetamines, it is still highly addictive. Most commonly, nicotine appears in cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and some e-cigarettes and vapes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributes smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Every year, smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke causes at least 443,000 premature deaths and costs the nation more than $225 billion on medical care to treat smoking-related diseases. The life expectancy of a smoker is ten years less than non-smokers, and they cost their companies more money regarding health and life insurance.


Are There Drug Tests for Nicotine?

Usually, such tests are for cotinine, not nicotine. But yes, there are tests to check for those substances exclusively or as part of a more extensive multi-panel screening process. Cotinine is a substance that only shows up after your body has processed nicotine. It is more stable and, therefore, lasts longer in the body, making it ideal for testing purposes. Cotinine can be detected in blood and urine tests, but the amount and delivery method — whether it was smoked, chewed, or vaped — affect how long the drug can be detected. 

Generally, nicotine will stay in your blood 1-3 days after last being imbibed, with cotinine staying up to 10 days. With a urine test, neither nicotine nor cotinine will be detectable after 3-4 days of stopping the use of tobacco products.

There are two types of testing, either qualitative or quantitative. A qualitative test shows whether a particular substance, such as cotinine or nicotine, is in the given sample. Whereas a quantitative test specifically tells you how much of said substance is present.


Smoking vs. Chewing vs. Vaping

How the substance is consumed may impact how much nicotine and cotinine are actually delivered into your body. There has been less research on how vaping compares to the more standard methods. However, we do know that when nicotine is smoked, it absorbs quickly into the body through the lungs.

Chew and dip tobacco products contain higher levels of nicotine than regular cigarettes. The amount absorbed into the body depends on many factors, including the brand, the acidity level, and the amount chewed. With these delivery methods, nicotine is absorbed through the membranes in the mouth and throat.

Regardless of how you prefer to get your nicotine, it is mainly metabolized through the liver, lungs, and kidneys. It is then excreted primarily through the kidneys via urine — though nicotine can also show up in your saliva and hair.


Why Test for Nicotine?

A few of the most common reasons to take a nicotine test include:

  • Court-ordered testing for child custody cases
  • For smoking cessation programs
  • When applying for health or life insurance
  • Before certain surgeries
  • If your doctor suspects a nicotine overdose
  • For employment


Are Employers Legally Allowed to Test For Nicotine?

Depending on the state, yes. So far, 28 states and the District of Columbia have outlawed not hiring applicants based on whether or not they are smokers. This legislation protects individuals at the state level. However, smokers are not protected at the federal level.

In the other 22 states, an increasing number of employers, primarily hospitals, have instituted tobacco-free hiring policies designed to promote health while reducing insurance premiums. These employers are testing applicants for nicotine and basing their hiring decisions on the results.

Essentially, these states permit tobacco-free hiring practices, so companies can legally refuse to hire an applicant that tests positive for nicotine. However, there are a few practicalities such employers must consider:

  • Keeping an employee nicotine-free may be challenging to enforce, especially when an employee is off-duty.
  • It may limit the pool of qualified applicants.
  • This practice may foster resentment among smokers and non-smokers alike, who could view these policies as intrusions into how they live in their off-hours.

Smoke-free hiring practices are becoming more common. And depending on your area of residence, if a company has specific policies in place, you can be denied employment due to your nicotine habits.


How Does Nicotine Affect Your Work?

Since nicotine is legal and does not physically or mentally impair one’s ability to do their job, why would it need to be tested? The answer is mainly for insurance purposes. Health and life insurance companies charge more money or are less likely to insure individuals who smoke. This is because of the associated health problems and the higher rates of chronic diseases caused by smoking. Being tobacco-free makes a job applicant more appealing for an employer trying to save money on insurance costs and promote a healthy work environment.

Some employers also view smoking as a hindrance to productivity in the workplace. According to a survey by HaloCigs, an e-cigarette company, the amount of smoke breaks taken while on the job adds up to approximately six days of missed work a year. When interviewing their non-smoking counterparts, 3 out of 4 said they should receive extra vacation days to make up for the difference. 


Countrywide Testing

Nicotine is an addictive drug, and everyone’s body chemistry reacts to it differently. Whether you are taking an employer-mandated drug test for insurance purposes, or you are actively trying to quit smoking, let Countrywide Testing help. 

We strive to make the process as straightforward and effortless as possible. Countrywide Testing provides you with access to FDA-approved testing devices, with single and multi-panel tests for nicotine and cotinine. We also offer access to our parent company, Phamatech, Inc.— a SAMHSA, ISO, CLIA, and CAP licensed laboratory

Our additional services include:

  • Fast 24-48 hour turnaround time
  • Reliable, accurate results at affordable prices
  • Proven record of over 25 years of experience
  • Qualitative & quantitative urine drug testing
  • Exceptional customer support 

Visit our website or contact Countrywide Testing today to see how our testing and laboratory services can assist you and your specific needs.



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