Smoke-free workplaces have become standard in many cities, but some employers take their anti-tobacco policies a step further by prohibiting employees from smoking even while they are not at work. While such policies are incredibly controversial, U.S. courts have upheld them as lawful. How do bosses monitor employees' behavior when they are off the clock? They use a test that looks for nicotine, of course. Unfortunately, e-cigarette users are not exempt from this discriminatory practice, which is why it's important for vapers to understand how the human body metabolizes nicotine.Understanding How Nicotine Stays in the Body
Technically, nicotine breaks down into a metabolite called cotinine within 2-11 hours after consumption; however, cotinine remains detectable in the user's hair, blood, saliva and urine for up to 30 days. Therefore, some employers use cotinine tests to determine if prospective employees use tobacco.
Of course, there is a problem: Not all nicotine products are tobacco products. Most notably, smoking-cessation tools such as nicotine patches and some e-liquids contain pure nicotine. When extracted directly from the tobacco plant, small doses of nicotine are harmless and may even have therapeutic value; it's the many other chemicals in tobacco that cause cancers and other health maladies linked to smoking. Nicotine can also be synthetically produced. Nonetheless, e-cigs and other nicotine-containing products get stigmatized due to their association with smoking.
If you're a vaper who is applying for jobs in the public health sector, you could be subject to nicotine testing and consequently denied employment. That's why it's a good idea to take a vaping break for a few days if you're worried about being tested. So how long is nicotine in your system? Blood tests can detect cotinine up to 10 days after your most recent nicotine use. Although blood tests are the most accurate method, there are less invasive ways to test for nicotine use, so most employers do not request blood samples.How Long is Nicotine in Your Urine?
Urine and saliva tests are more commonly used to screen employees for nicotine consumption. Both tests usually only detect cotinine within 3-4 days. However, anyone who inhales a lot of secondhand smoke, including non-smokers, can sometimes have cotinine lingering in their systems for longer periods of time. Therefore, it's theoretically possible to get a false positive from a urine test. Hair tests are the most damning; they can detect nicotine and cotinine up to a year after the last use. Fortunately, hair tests are expensive and are rarely used by employers.When Does Nicotine Leave Your System?
How quickly nicotine and cotinine get metabolized depends on the user's genetics, age, diet and other health factors. It also depends on how much and how frequently a person uses nicotine. Fruits and vegetables containing large amounts of vitamin C can accelerate your metabolism and therefore speed up the elimination process. Exercise, proper hydration and eating foods rich in antioxidants are also ideal for flushing out nicotine. If you're trying to kick your tobacco habit, keeping a healthy diet will also help you fight off urges to smoke.
Related: Overcoming the Smoker's Flu
Keep in mind that e-cigs are less effective at delivering nicotine than tobacco cigarettes. Since vapers generally take in less nicotine than smokers, it's safe to assume that e-cig users will be less susceptible to tipping off a nicotine or cotinine test. Nonetheless, you should lay off of vaping for a few days if you're worried about an employer asking for your urine or saliva.
For decades, everyone assumed that nicotine was what made smoking such a hard habit to break. The whole concept of nicotine-replacement therapy is founded upon this assumption. The CDC still claims that “nicotine is as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol,” yet new research suggests that nicotine may not be the primary culprit behind tobacco dependency. As it turns out, nicotine withdrawal and smoking withdrawal may not be the same thing after all.The Truth About Nicotine Addiction
Since most people associate nicotine with tobacco, it's no surprise that the substance gets a bad wrap. The fact that smoking causes millions of deaths annually is indisputable; however, why cigarettes are addictive is a subject of ongoing debate. Tobacco cigarettes contain dozens of chemicals other than nicotine that could have addictive properties. Another theory is that those additives amplify the mildly addictive properties of nicotine.
The delivery method of nicotine greatly impacts how the chemical is absorbed into the body. Studies have proven that smokers take in much more nicotine than vapers, which some public health officials say explains why tobacco cigarettes are demonstrably more addictive than e-cigarettes. Nonetheless, research in another field has thrown into question whether or not nicotine is addictive at all.How Addictive is Nicotine?
Interestingly, human experiments measuring the therapeutic uses of nicotine have not supported the hypothesis that nicotine is highly addictive. While investigating how small amounts of pure nicotine may improve certain neurological disorders, doctors have yet to document any withdrawal symptoms in test subjects. They did, however, discover that controlled doses of nicotine help Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients. As part of the study, nicotine was administered through skin contact via nicotine patches.
A less scientific yet more publicized study that threw nicotine's addictive properties into question was undertaken by journalist Michael Mosley. Mosley, who is not a smoker, started regularly vaping for a month to find out for himself whether or not e-cigs alone can be addictive. He reported no urges to vape during his experiment, and he didn't notice any withdrawal symptoms once it was over. Animal research has further supported the theory that other ingredients in cigarettes, not nicotine, are responsible for withdrawal after tobacco cessation.What are the Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal
Nicotine withdrawal and tobacco withdrawal were once considered synonymous, but that is no longer true. The harsh side effects smokers suffer when quitting smoking have less to do with nicotine and more to do with tar and dozens of other bad things in cigarettes. By itself, the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are similar to caffeine withdrawal.
Many former smokers can tell you all about “smoker's flu” which isn't a virus but rather the collective symptoms associated with cigarette detox. These symptoms include:Irritability Trouble concentrating Gastrointestinal issues Trouble sleeping Fatigue Headache Congestion Cough and sore throat Acne
This all sounds unpleasant, but it's the process your body must go through to heal. Within four days, ex-smokers usually feel much better than they did when they were smoking.
Nicotine may very well be habit-forming like caffeine, but the jury is still out. Either way, comparing nicotine to heroin isn't just absurd; it's irresponsible. The CDC owes the public more honest information, and they should join Public Health England in supporting e-cigs as a safer alternative to tobacco.
We've established that controlled quantities of nicotine can have therapeutic potential, but we also know that too much of a good thing can often be a bad thing. Fortunately, nicotine overdoses are rare and almost always accidental in nature. Nonetheless, you should still understand the symptoms of nicotine poisoning just in case.How Much Nicotine is Too Much?
In most countries, nicotine is classified as a stimulant on par with caffeine; however, a few places, including Australia, legally categorize nicotine as a poison. In other nations, any smoking cessation product containing nicotine is classified as a pharmaceutical and requires a prescription. Nicotine can indeed be dangerous if consumed in high doses all at once, but the exact amount it takes to overdose remains disputed.
An often-cited lethal dose of nicotine is 30-60mg, but that estimate comes from a 1906 textbook on the subject and has become debatable under newer research. German scientist Bernd Mayer published a paper in 2013 that cites many cases of individuals surviving the consumption of much larger amounts of nicotine. His research suggests that an average adult would actually have to consume 500-1000mg to result in fatal nicotine poisoning.What are the Symptoms of Too Much Nicotine?
The symptoms of nicotine overdose come in two phases. A mild overdose and nicotine poisoning are not necessarily the same thing. In the situation of a mere overdose, the individual can experience minor side effects like dizziness, headache, vomiting, abdominal pain, shaking, sweating, hypertension, rapid heart rate and poor coordination.What are the Symptoms of Nicotine Poisoning?
The more serious consequences of too much nicotine include reduced heart rate, hypotension and central nervous system depression. Individuals can even slip into a coma or experience respiratory failure. Seizures have also been reported.
Fortunately, it is practically impossible to experience nicotine poisoning from smoking tobacco cigarettes, but smokers sometimes feel the mild side effects associated with the first phase of overdose after a nicotine binge. Non-smokers who try cigarettes often have nausea or headaches since their bodies are not used to nicotine. Anyone who tries smoking while wearing a nicotine patch at the same time will likely feel sick. Such symptoms alone are not dangerous although the act of smoking remains very dangerous due to the tobacco and other chemicals in traditional cigarettes.Nicotine Overdose from Smoking
The human body metabolizes nicotine rather quickly; most of it is out of your system within 30 minutes to two hours. Furthermore, even though individual cigarettes pack up to 10mg of nicotine, only 1mg is absorbed into the smoker's body. Therefore, taking into account the more conservative estimate for how much nicotine is too much, you'd have to somehow smoke three packs of cigarettes all at once to truly overdose.Overdose from Nicotine Replacement Therapies
Although nicotine poisoning is extremely rare, it does happen. Given the high quantities needed to overdose, how do people consume that much nicotine? Virtually all serious cases can be attributed to improper use of nicotine replacement therapies like patches, gums, lozenges and inhalers. Since these substances are absorbed via the skin or mucous membranes rather than the lungs, in combination with the ability to use too much or more than one nicotine delivery method at the same time, the potential for overdose is higher. Farmers who work with tobacco directly are also at risk of nicotine poisoning because their skin can absorb the chemical from the plant's leaves.Nicotine Overdose from Vaping
In recent studies, e-cigarettes have proven to be a less efficient delivery method for nicotine than tobacco cigarettes. In other words, vapers suck up less nicotine than smokers per puff. Overdosing on nicotine by vaping alone would be difficult, but it is theoretically possible. Some vape enthusiastic have done the math and determined that it would take 100 puffs per minute for an hour to even come close to a dangerous dose.
However, overdoses can also happen via skin exposure to e-liquids, so always be careful when handling them. The majority of nicotine poisonings occur in children younger than six years old, and most cases involve the child swallowing e-liquid. Symptoms often set in immediately, so there is no time to spare. If you suspect a child has ingested e-liquid, seek emergency treatment as soon as possible.How to Treat Nicotine Overdose
If someone swallows e-liquid or is otherwise exposed to large doses of nicotine, they should be taken to the hospital immediately, even if they are not having symptoms. Call emergency services and your local poison control center to ask for guidance. In cases of ingestion, the first line of treatment for nicotine poisoning is activated charcoal, which slows gastrointestinal absorption. Charcoal may need to be administered more than once. Additional care may be necessary for specific symptoms like seizure management or respiratory support.
Instances of nicotine overdoses have unsurprisingly led to more bad press for e-cigs. Sadly, nicotine poisoning does happen, and e-liquids are usually involved. Of course, all vapers shouldn't be punished for a few people's mistakes, but we do have a responsibility to encourage other vapers to keep their e-liquids out of reach from kids. Industry leaders should also prioritize making better childproof packaging for bottled e-liquids. We all have to do our part to keep e-cigs safe and legal!