How Long Does Nicotine Stay in your System?

This is the question many smokers and nonsmokers ask when it comes to discussing the devastating consequences of smoking. Well, how long does it take for the body to drain it after just one cigarette? It depends. There are several factors, which include tobacco type and whether you have smoked, chewed, or used snuff. Whichever way it gets into your system, it will not make it less toxic!

Once you smoke a cigarette or do passive smoking (the most common type of exposure), nicotine gets into the blood and travels around your body. After a while, hepatic enzymes will break it down to cotinine (a predominant metabolite of nicotine), which has almost the same effects and is just as dangerous.

First-hand Smoke

One “cancer stick” contains 10-12 mg of nicotine on average, of which about 1 mg will get into your body. Once absorbed, it is measured in nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). If you are a non-smoker, your blood cotinine will not exceed 1 ng/mL. If you are a heavy smoker, your cotinine may exceed 400 ng/mL.

How long does it stay?

It depends. To be exact, this period is different for blood, saliva, urine, and hair. This is the reason why there are different types of nicotine tests.

Nicotine absorbed from one particular cigarette (1 mg) is washed out of

  • blood within 2-3 days on the average.
  • It takes longer for it to disappear from saliva – about 4 days.
  • In urine, nicotine stays for about the same period (about 4 days).
  • For hair, this period is measured in months, not in days. More specifically, nicotine from your last cigarette may stay in your hair for 3 months or longer.

This is for just one cigarette. And what about regular smokers?

Needless to say, frequent use of nicotine entails a more protracted (if ever stopping) nicotine exposure. As can be calculated based on the above, if you smoke once a week, your body (except hair) has plenty of time to get rid of nicotine. If you have around three cigarettes over a week, you will have a slightly higher nicotine concentration. Finally, if you are a heavy smoker, your nicotine is always above average. Besides, it takes much longer (at least 10 days) for nicotine from a particular cigarette to wash away from your system.

Second-hand Smoke

“Secondhand smoke is smoke from burning tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, or pipes” – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us. It is also the smoke passively breathed in by people who are not smokers themselves.

The range of harmful effects that second-hand smoke causes are no smaller than that of first-hand smoke. There is no need to enumerate all the dangers here, cancer and heart problems are bad enough already; and it has been proved that you don’t need to even smoke to get into a risk group (also, let’s not forget how badly it can affect children.)

When it comes to the question of the effect measurement, it is more complicated here. We can only visually perceive about 20% of all secondhand smoke. Thus, it is really hard to say, how much of what is in the air “enter” our body. However, it is not impossible to measure exposure to secondhand smoke. The same saliva, urine, and blood testing are employed; but the main ingredient under consideration is cotinine.

The reduction of secondhand smoke cotinine levels has been registered in the nonsmoking population recently. The tendency has been taking place over the past two decades first of all due to various smoking prohibitions (in regard to public places in the first place) and decline in smoking being universally accepted.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “During 2011–2012, about 25 of every 100 (25.3%) nonsmokers had measurable levels of cotinine.” Unfortunately, despite the general decline in tendency, young children and teenagers are still grossly exposed to the second-hand smoke effect that comes from living with smoking parents.

How long does it stay?

One should understand that about 4,000 compounds (among them particulate matter, volatile organic gases, and heavy metals) comprise second-hand smoke, and they are things with their own properties. So, in short, it can stay for days and weeks, but also for months (even for years) in a person’s system; the term depends on a number of things (especially with the exposure being regular.)

Third-hand Smoke

This term is closely related to the previous one, however, it is much more recent. It basically refers to residual contamination caused by nicotine smoking. Despite the fact that second-hand smoke compounds have no smell or color to be directly detected, they still can be detected with the help of special sensitive equipment.

Third-hand smoke has been studied pretty much recently, and (as with second-hand smoke) there are several complications when it comes to exposure measurements. It is hard to really quantify it because the following things may vary: the number of cigarettes smoked as well as the amount and volume of the air indoors, the strength of a cigarette and its properties, indoor furnishing qualities, sorbency of surfaces; and rate of off-gassing. Besides, smokers in the room also emit toxins directly from their clothing and hair.

How long does it stay?

So, while it is not easy to measure it directly, this study managed to provide some results. The study was based on 103 smoking households and it basically showed that it takes a considerable amount of time (the median time range was about 55 minutes) for the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations to reduce by 50% after smoking one cigarette. It took even longer (160 minutes) for the smoke to get down to comply with the PM2.5 value recommended by WHO.

Thus, the 2006 surgeon general’s report was right in claiming that all tobacco exposure is risky. After all, cigarette smoke contains more than 250 poisonous toxins, lead among them. We have heard about second-hand smoke and ignored it for a long time. We have also little idea about all this smoke contamination that hides in our houses: sofas and curtains, clothes and cupboards for days. But we know now and we are also aware of the danger it represents for our kids.

How to reduce the levels of nicotine and what to do if you don’t smoke

Taking into consideration all the aforementioned facts, it is pretty clear that smoking, well, is not the best habit to have. In case you choose to quit after all, here is what you should know.

Nicotine is naturally metabolized in the liver. There are several factors that influence the speed of the process. The speed of liver work comes first. In turn, it depends on other factors, such as feeding and age.

  • Eating increases hepatic blood flow and speeds up metabolism. It has been estimated that nicotine goes away from your body 40% faster at this time.
  • The intensity of hepatic blood circulation changes during a day. It slows down by night and during sleep.
  • Age is an important factor too. The older we grow, the slower the liver is to do its work and the longer it takes for it to metabolize nicotine.

So, to get rid of all the bad stuff fast:

Drink as much as you can. If you do, nicotine will be washed out of your system in a natural way. It is advisable to eat berries and drink natural juices because they contain antioxidants.

Do physical exercise. This will stimulate blood circulation (including hepatic) and speed up metabolism.

Include garlic and onion in your diet. These ingredients stimulate the secretion of bile.

Surely, the best way is to quit smoking (if you do); and if you don’t, avoid the places where people do. It is not easy, if they are your close friends or family, but you can tell them all about second-hand and third-hand smoke as well (to be more persuasive.) Let’s not hope that what we cannot see cannot kill us. It pretty much can.


  1. I need advice about life insurance, I am 30 now and awful smoker for half of my life. These paramedical exams, are they really so nasty? I dont plan to quit but their policy for non-smokers is much better, I read about it. So, did anyone trie to lie and say they don’t smoke while they do? do they ask about your cigarettes and ask for proofs and all? like, as I get it from the text, I need to abstain for at least a month to pass clean ?!

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