For the Purposes of Life Insurance Testing, How Long Is Nicotine Detectable in the System?

Written by James Hirby | Fact checked by The Law Dictionary staff |  

Nicotine tests are becoming increasingly frequent and important. Many hospitals and clinics now regularly require their employees to submit to these examinations. Every year, hundreds of healthcare workers lose their jobs after failing these tests. There exists a small but growing cottage industry dedicated to helping individuals flush nicotine from their systems.

Nicotine tests are also widely used in the life insurance industry. Life insurance pricing is complicated and varies considerably between providers. However, the vast majority of life insurers set the premiums for their policies according to the same basic template. This template classifies policyholders according to their perceived risk of death within a given period of time.

There are four principal categories: Super premium, premium, standard and tobacco. "Super premium" policyholders are the most coveted policyholders and pay substantially lower premiums as a result. "Tobacco" policyholders are the most problematic and expensive policyholders. The nicotine tests to which insurance companies subject prospective policyholders determine whether or not an individual will qualify for classification as a "tobacco" policyholder.

There are three basic types of nicotine test: urine, saliva and hair. With the ability to detect nicotine for two weeks or longer after the subject has ceased smoking, the hair test is the most expensive and sensitive of these three types of test. However, it's also the least common. Whereas some hospitals and clinics might use expensive hair tests to ensure that their employees have truly stopped smoking, most insurance companies can't afford the added cost of requiring all prospective policyholders to submit to them.

If you're facing a nicotine test, it's likely that you'll be asked to provide a urine or saliva sample. With the power to detect nicotine up to a week after the cessation of smoking, saliva tests tend to be more sensitive than urine tests. On the other hand, they also tend to be less accurate and may require additional rounds of confirmation testing. As such, you should expect to face a urine test unless you're advised otherwise by your insurance company.

Urine tests are designed to detect a byproduct of nicotine known as "cotinine." This substance is produced by the body's metabolic processes and can be detected in typical smokers for about four days after the cessation of smoking. Smokers with unusually fast metabolisms may be cotinine-free within two days after their last cigarette. On the other hand, some other smokers may be unable to pass a urine test for a week or longer after quitting smoking.

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