Nicotine FAQ

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Published on Nov 30th, 2017


Nicotine is known to be the addictive compound found in tobacco products and vape pens.
Although there are no federal bans on the substance, nicotine is responsible for long-term tobacco dependency, which can cause a series of health problems.
For more information on nicotine abuse or nicotine testing, you've come to the right place.

What is nicotine?

Nicotine is a colorless and poisonous substance extracted from the tobacco plant often used as an effective insecticide. Nicotine is the main psychoactive ingredient in tobacco products responsible for causing addiction.

What does nicotine do to the body?

Nicotine is a psychoactive drug which acts upon the central nervous system (CNS) to alter brain function, perception of reality, mood, consciousness and behavior. Nicotine is highly addictive, as it is used to purposefully alter consciousness.

Negative side effects of nicotine:

  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cold Symptoms, i.e. Coughing
  • Nausea
  • Constipation

What is cotinine?

Cotinine (COT) is a metabolite synthesized by the body as a byproduct of nicotine. Drug tests for nicotine use will screen for cotinine metabolites as the most reliable indicator of exposure to tobacco.

What is nicotine testing?

A test for nicotine is designed to detect cotinine, the principal metabolite of nicotine, in urine and saliva specimens. Cotinine remains in the body for an extended period of time as a result of direct or secondhand smoke exposure. Cotinine drug testing is intended for forensic, non-medical purposes only.

Which drug test methods can detect cotinine?

Cotinine metabolites produced by the body can be traced in urine and saliva specimens. Urine cotinine testing is the preferred method to measure passive exposure to tobacco. Cotinine can also be easily detected with a cotinine saliva drug test such as our iScreen OFD Saliva Cotinine Test Kit, which can be administered with or without a private bathroom.

How accurate is nicotine testing?

All cotinine/nicotine drugs test are calibrated to be highly sensitive and accurate. The presence of cotinine is depicted on easy to read, color labeled test strips.

Can cotinine levels be traced in nonsmokers?

Yes. In fact, prolonged exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) may yield higher cotinine levels than would be present in firsthand smokers. Studies have shown secondhand smoke exposure can create more deleterious effects on the body that direct cigarette smoke.

What are the pros and cons of performing a nicotine test?
Nicotine testing is suitable for many scenarios:

Workplace Drug Testing


  • Periodic nicotine testing protects the health of nonsmokers
  • Nicotine testing increases productivity by limiting breaks
  • Nicotine tests can encourage smokers to quit


  • Testing for nicotine may be perceived as an invasion of privacy
  • Using nicotine tests is illegal in some United States
  • Frequently screening for nicotine creates an additional workplace expense

School Drug Testing


  • Nicotine test results increase accountability of students and educators
  • Nicotine testing prevents learning distractions
  • Screening for nicotine encourages positive relationships with good role models


  • Nicotine screening may be perceived as biased or unfair
  • Test results for nicotine may lead to unfair student punishment
  • Nicotine testing may create a less welcoming school atmosphere

Drug Testing At Home


  • Nicotine tests measure the concentration of nicotine in a person's body
  • Nicotine testing determines if someone is exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Nicotine drug tests can evaluate acute nicotine poisoning


  • Using a nicotine test may be an invasion of privacy
  • Regular nicotine testing can be expensive

Will nicotine testing benefit my clinical practice? Do I need to know if my patients are smoking or not?

As a medical professional, it is important to learn if your patients are smokers. Smoking may cause a number of health complications:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Poor Respiration
  • Emphysema or Asthma
  • Compromised Oral Health

Smoking also increases recovery time after surgical procedures, which is why it is necessary to delay elective aesthetic procedures until cotinine levels are diminished.

Can blood cotinine levels determine smoking frequency?

Although cotinine has an established half-life, it is not recommended to reference blood cotinine levels to determine smoking frequency. A donor might test positive for cotinine or nicotine if they frequently use smoking cessation products, e.g. patches, gum, nasal sprays, electronic cigarettes, etc.

Do smoking cessation products, e.g. nicotine patches, gum, aerosols, etc. affect cotinine levels?

Since smoking cessation products contain trace amounts of nicotine, they can trigger positive results on a nicotine/cotinine drug test. If planning to take a cotinine drug test, indicate the use of nicotine replacement products on the enclosed Chain of Custody Form.

How can nicotine be detoxed from the body?

There are several strategies to cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine supplementation in the form of nicotine gum or patches can help with smoking cessation. Certain prescribed medications, e.g. antidepressants encourage abstinence from tobacco while reducing withdrawal symptoms. Be sure to consult with a physician before opting for prescription nicotine products.

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