Nicotine Test Kits
Nicotine test kits measure cotinine which is one of the many metabolites or byproducts of nicotine alteration by
the body. Therefore, the more accurate terminology is cotinine test kits, but the terms are used interchangeably.
Cotinine is a good identifier of recent tobacco use as well as secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke, which is also
referred to as passive smoking. Detection of cotinine does not distinguish between the various forms of tobacco
use, including cigarette smoking, pipe smoking, cigar smoking, snuff dipping, or tobacco chewing.
Cotinine can be measured in the urine or saliva for 2-7 days following the last use of tobacco, depending on the
test deployed and the rate of bodily alteration of nicotine by the person being tested. Tests performed by a
laboratory can generally detect cotinine if there has been tobacco use within 3-7 days of the testing. Cotinine
test kits on the other hand, generally detect the compound if there has been tobacco exposure within 2-3 days of
the testing. It can be detected in hair for up to 90 days and in some cases up to 6 months following the last
A nicotine test kit has many uses. It is sometimes used as screening tools by companies and agencies that prefer
non-smoking employees. Life and health insurance companies use cotinine test kits to set premiums, and testing by
health insurance companies will probably increase now that the Affordable Care Act allows them to charge up to 50%
higher premiums for smokers than for non-smokers. Concerned parents might use a nicotine test kit to monitor
adolescents for tobacco use and determine children’s secondhand smoke exposure. Additionally, some coaches and
trainers perform nicotine tests on their athletes and pupils.
TobacAlert is the only instant quantitative nicotine test kit. Instant means on-the-spot testing can be
performed with instant test results. Quantitative means the actual amount of cotinine is measured. In addition to
the strips, the kit contains an interpretive scale which correlates the concentration of cotinine measured with the
degree of tobacco use or secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke. TobacAlert is for non-medical use and is not
intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition, but can be integrated into a quit smoking
program to provide encouragement and decrease the likelihood of relapsing. NicAlert is an instant quantitative
nicotine test kit for use by professionals such as physicians.
Although urine is the preferred specimen for testing, one of its disadvantages is that urine can be
tampered with to give a false negative test result. A nicotine test kit, which measures cotinine in saliva,
is a way of working around this problem, but it’s disadvantage is that the concentration of cotinine in saliva is
much less than in urine where it is concentrated 10 times higher by the kidney. As a result, the saliva test is less sensitive and cannot be used as a true quantitative test to determine the
level of exposure, to the same degree as the TobacAlert test kit. It can detect if there has been tobacco
use but cannot determine secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke despite some marketing
A quantitative instant urine professional nicotine test kit is also available, for use by doctors and other
healthcare professionals. It also detects tobacco use and secondhand tobacco smoke exposure, but the professional saliva kit, which is also available, is not for determining exposure to
secondhand tobacco smoke.
Cotinine is produced in the body whether the source of nicotine is tobacco use or one of the nicotine replacement
products designed to help quit smoking. Therefore, the use of a nicotine test kit to monitor someone who is in the
midst of a quit smoking program will not distinguish between actual tobacco use and use of a nicotine lozenges,
chewing gum, patches, or any of the other nicotine replacement products.