It’s not necessarily all about nicotine traces in blood and urine.
Whether you’re about to face nicotine testing at the point of employment or require it to determine the cost of health insurance, you may be wondering just how long nicotine remains traceable in the body. Moreover, as you probably know, these tests generally do not distinguish between hardcore cigarette smokers and those using lighter, safer forms of nicotine, such as no-smoke tobacco or vaping. If that’s not ridiculous enough, even the FDA-approved for long use nicotine gum can raise eyebrows and affect your employability.
For insurance companies, the presence of nicotine is treated as a reliable sign of tobacco use and/or ongoing nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). The latter usually means someone is an ex-smoker, and the statistics also reveal that more than 90% NRT users are very likely to return to smoking at some point.
However, it’s not just about nicotine concentration in your blood and urine. Most tests aren’t even aimed at these indicators – at all.
How long does it take to eliminate nicotine?
As such, it is a well-known fact that nicotine is difficult to detect in the urine after four days, and in the blood – after only a couple of days post exposure. Therefore, most employers and insurance companies aren’t even trying to employ this kind of testing anymore, as it’s so easy to bypass.
The alternative is to use cotinine, a nicotine metabolite produced when nicotine is metabolized in the liver. Unlike the short-lived nicotine, cotinine remains detectable for up to three weeks, and up to one week is considered a highly reliable testing window. The exact length of time is determined by many factors, including but not limited to ethnicity, medications, supplements taken, nutrition habits – and even gender, with men usually clinging to cotinine longer than women. The testing science is constantly advancing, resulting in rapidly changing recommended cut-off points above which the person is considered an active nicotine user.
What types of tests are there?
There is a variety of blood tests accurately measuring cotinine levels – in addition, if the detection window is right, these sensitive tests will pick up both nicotine and cotinine. Blood testing is also invasive and relatively expensive, so it’s not typically utilised as often as other methods.
In addition, a well-equipped lab and an experienced qualified technician are required to perform the procedure. This can result in additional costs for all parties involved.
In terms of the actual test options, one of them involves a simple yes-or-no measure that does not provide the exact concentrations of substances. The other test returns the exact level of cotinine in the blood serum.
Urine tests are preferred by many testing bodies since urine contains approximately 6 times more cotinine compared to both blood and saliva – hence, relatively low concentrations of the substance can be detected. This test is typically performed with special strips that are soaked in the urine sample for several minutes, coming back with either a negative or a positive result.
This curious method is very expensive and slow, and therefore isn’t used in most cases – but hair testing also happens to be the most reliable. Oftentimes, hair testing will be ordered if the results from other methods are ambiguous. Otherwise, the primary use of this method is in science, as samples tend to retain cotinine well for the whole three months.
This test sports awesome balance between effectiveness and costs, which is why it’s favored by many insurance companies and labs alike. Quite high levels of cotinine and nicotine are required for successful detection – about 1/3 as high as those in blood serum, and about 1/15th those in urine. However, saliva testing beats the disadvantages by being very simple and affordable.
Third-party kits make it easy to perform saliva nicotine testing anytime, anywhere. Typically, those involve a mouth swab, which is then places into a self-sealing container and shipped to the respective lab. The results can then be collected by mail or phone, so there is no need to visit the lab – ultimate convenience.
Is nicotine testing a staple for all insurance companies?
These days, you can expect pretty much every insurance company to perform nicotine testing for health insurance calculations, and sometimes – for life insurance, too (which kind of makes sense). It’s not all bad news, however, as some companies are changing their rules to “allow” vaping and using smokeless tobacco whilst remaining eligible for non-smoker rates. In rare cases, cigar smoking is given a green light, too.
When it comes to life insurance, policies vary considerably between different companies, so you’ll just have to shop around and see what their stance is. There are even policies created specifically for vapers, so don’t commit to something you’re unhappy with as there are options.
Is it possible to avoid testing positive?
You may have seen products for sale that claim to “purify” the body from nicotine in a matter of days – however, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many people (unless they’re heavy smokers) will test negative after about a week of going cold turkey anyway, which these products capitalize on. Instead of wasting your money on questionable supplements, switch to e-liquids with zero nicotine content and stay well-hydrated. Voila.
Many people are hoping that future regulations will have clear distinctions between smoking and use of safer forms of nicotine, resulting in adjusted insurance rates and more forgiving employment policies where possible. In the meantime, your best bet is to abstain for a week or two. And if it’s employment that’s on the table, consider taking a proactive position and talking to your employer about the benefits of low-risk nicotine products like vaping instead of banning nicotine completely, as the latter is often detached from reality.