What is a Nicotine Test?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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A nicotine test is a form of drug testing used by employers or insurance companies to determine whether a person partakes of tobacco products such as cigarettes. Nicotine testing can be done with either urine or a saliva sample and works by measuring the chemical made in the body when nicotine is introduced. It can detect the recent use of all kinds of tobacco for about four days. These tests help employers and insurance companies to determine the amount of possible risk involved in new employees.

Some employers and/or insurance companies require a person to take a nicotine test before being hired, during employment, or before acquiring an insurance policy. As larger companies typically provide some sort of health insurance, they may try to reduce costs by not hiring a tobacco user if allowed by law. Some even go so far as to require random tests for incumbent employees. The majority of health insurance providers require a test for nicotine be passed before they agree to grant coverage; some may deny tobacco users coverage all together. Nicotine home drug testing kits are also available for purchase at several drug stores, allowing parents to test their children if they so choose.


This test can be done with a urine or saliva sample and works by measuring the level of cotinine in the body. Cotinine is the chemical that is produced by the body when nicotine enters the blood stream. Standard tests have a cut off of 200 ng/ml, although the more advanced saliva test can register from zero to 2,000 ng/ml.

A standard test is carried out with a urine sample, and this test is the most common one sold over the counter. A testing strip is placed in the sample for five minutes and will show how much, if any, cotinine is present in the body. This type of test can register use in the past four days or longer for frequent smokers.

The most accurate nicotine test is arguably the saliva test. For this, a person must provide a saliva sample, which soaks a test strip. Results are available to the tester after 20 minutes. This type of test is typically preferred by insurance companies and employers because it eliminates the need to handle urine. The saliva test is also able to detect much lower ranges of nicotine than the urine test, thereby providing a more comprehensive idea of the amount of tobacco used by a person.

The purpose of a nicotine test is usually to determine how much of a risk a person is to employ or cover. Those who use nicotine products are more likely to develop several different health issues than those who do not; they typically miss more days of work than non-tobacco users for ordinary health issues, such as colds.


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Post 1

What are the legal ramifications of denying employment to someone because that person is a tobacco user? After all, we're talking about someone who is engaged in a legal activity, so is it OK to exclude that person from unemployment simply because their health insurance costs might be a little higher?

Using that criteria, companies could rationalize denying employment to all sorts of people who engage in any activity that is deemed even the least bit risky by an insurer. That's a disturbing scenario.

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