According to the CDC, potentially more than 34 million adults smoke in the United States. Unfortunately, smoking tobacco products is the leading cause of preventable death in the country (20% of such deaths). Fortunately, the United States has seen a significant drop in the total number of smokers and an increase in people who quit smoking.
It’s well-known that quitting smoking can be difficult. One primary reason? Because tobacco products don’t just contain tobacco; they also contain the addictive substance nicotine. So, when it comes to quitting smoking, many wonder, “How long does nicotine stay in your system?”
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System?
Tests for tobacco smoking/exposure to tobacco smoke typically do not look for nicotine. Instead, they look for cotinine. What’s cotinine? It’s a metabolite of nicotine. This phrase means that when you inhale or chew tobacco, your body breaks down the nicotine from these products. This breakdown results in cotinine.
Why do so many tests look for cotinine instead of nicotine? Because cotinine is detectable in your system for longer periods of time than nicotine is. This fact is likely because the body eliminates cotinine more slowly than it does nicotine and that cotinine has a longer half-life.
(“Half-life” in this context refers to how long it takes for these substances’ concentrations in the body to decrease by half. Note that it takes more than 2 half-lives for the body to completely eliminate these substances.)
It’s important to note that how long each substance is detectable varies widely, based on several factors like pregnancy, age, and gender. Research furthermore indicates that people who use oral hormonal birth control methods metabolize nicotine faster than those who do not use such contraceptives.
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Urine?
Tests for tobacco smoke exposure are most commonly urine tests. Not only are these tests easier and often cheaper than others, but urine has up to six times the concentration of cotinine as saliva or blood.
- Nicotine: Typically not detectable 4 days after last exposure
- Cotinine: Typically not detectable 4 days after last exposure
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Saliva?
- Cotinine: May be detectable up to 4 days after last exposure
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Blood?
- Nicotine: 1 to 3 days after last exposure
- Cotinine: 1 to 10 days after last exposure
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Hair Follicles?
Hair follicle tests aren’t as popular as urine tests, but they can detect nicotine long after your last exposure. These tests are most accurate 1 to 3 months after your last exposure. However, advanced tests can actually detect nicotine exposure a year after your last smoke.
Resources for How to Quit Smoking
Quitting smoking can be tough. Those who want to quit smoking may find the following resources, tips, and tricks helpful:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- American Lung Association
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)