HOW LONG DOES SMOKE STAY IN YOUR LUNGS?
Many of the chemicals produced from smoking can get stuck in the lungs, such as tar, that don't start to clear out until you quit smoking, but the evidence for how long it takes to get tobacco smoke particles out from the lungs indicates anywhere between 18 to 90 seconds, with a mean number of breaths required to wash tobacco smoke particles of 8.7.
Active smokers who have been smoking for years may have some idea how long it takes to clear the lungs out after smoking a cigarette - it may not be precise, but I expect that smokers often feel when there is more smoke to exhale.
While it may take a matter of breaths to wash out tobacco particles from your breath, there are many reasons a tobacco user may want to know how long nicotine stays in the body. It may be your life or health insurance prohibits smoking or is impacted by it, and you may have to provide a urine sample or saliva sample for drug tests.
Whatever the reason, today we are looking at how long smoke stays in the lungs and answering 'how long does nicotine stay in the body?'
Quitting smoking is tough! So tough, in fact, that new research indicates it could take smokers over 30 quit attempts to finally kick the habit. The reason smoking cessation is hard is all down to the addictive chemical, nicotine.
Nicotine addiction happens because nicotine activates receptors in the brain that control our mood and thinking, as well as stimulating the production of hormones that reduce feelings of tiredness. The problem is that the brain starts to rely on nicotine to stimulate these pathways and failing to re-dose leaves the brain without, leading to nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Tobacco users will be aware of these nicotine withdrawal symptoms, likely having experienced them at one point or another. These symptoms can be quite physical - insomnia, headaches and sweating to feelings of anxiety, irritability and depression.
These symptoms can really impact your quality of life while you try to quit tobacco products. This is why nicotine replacement therapy products such as nicotine gum and nicotine patches were invented; to deliver nicotine to the body to reduce the smoker's desire to have a cigarette in a less harmful way than smoking. This is also why the E-Cigarette was invented!
Vaping as a form of smoking cessation
Vaping devices deliver nicotine into the body, much like nicotine replacement therapy, but E-Cigarettes are used in a similar fashion to smoking, replacing not only the nicotine content from smoking but the physical habit as well! This may be one of the reasons evidence indicates that E-Cigarettes could be up to twice as effective as other forms of nicotine replacement products.
What's great about E-Cigarettes is that the exhaled vapour is 99.9% water vapour with trace amounts of nicotine at best. The particles also evaporate in seconds, which means there is no risk of secondhand smoke from vaping like there is from smoking!
Whether you vape, smoke or use nicotine replacement products, nicotine stays in your system for a while after your last intake of nicotine.
How long does nicotine stay in the body?
There are a multitude of factors that impact how long nicotine stays in the body but, as a general ball-park, nicotine can stay in the blood for about 3 days, but it can be detected in a urine sample for up to 3 weeks and can be found in the hair for around 3 months to a year. The detail comes down to the specific nicotine chemistry that occurs in the body.
The brain isn't the only place that nicotine can bind to - the liver, kidney and spleen have places that nicotine can bind to. One of the big issues is that nicotine intake increases the presence of the receptors that nicotine binds to, which goes some way to explaining why it is harder to give up smoking if you have been smoking for a while.
The liver is responsible for processing nicotine, breaking it down into cotinine and other metabolites. The enzyme used to break down nicotine varies depending on the person's genetics, with some people able to process nicotine at twice the speed compared to others! Women appear to process nicotine faster than men, too, potentially because women tend to have a faster metabolism than men.
Other factors that can impact how quickly you process nicotine include ethnic backgrounds, age, how much water you drink, and whether you still smoke. Genetic differences in the enzymes processing nicotine affect the speed at which the enzyme works, and reduced blood flow to the liver as you age may account for the slower processing of nicotine. If you are still smoking, the evidence suggests that you will process nicotine slower.
Testing for Nicotine
Nicotine tests aren't as simple as testing for nicotine - there are a variety of tests that can find the metabolites of nicotine, such as cotinine, that can be found in urine tests for several weeks after giving up smoking. Whether it's nicotine or cotinine testing, they can can test whether nicotine is present or the concentration of nicotine in the body.
Urine test results can show long term tobacco use for up to several weeks after giving up smoking. Blood tests for nicotine can detect nicotine use within 2 weeks, and a saliva sample can be tested to establish recent use. Though light smokers may not test positive from a saliva sample after 11 hours, heavy smokers still have nicotine in the saliva for up to 5 days.
Hair tests are reliable for long term tobacco use and are primarily used to detect cotinine, maintaining a high level of accuracy for 3 months after stopping smoking and able to detect nicotine use from the hair for up to a year after starting smoking cessation.
Can you clear nicotine from the body faster?
There are a number of ways to encourage faster clearance of nicotine from the body but a heavy smoker will still be clearing nicotine and cotinine from the body for up to 3 months after smoking cessation.
Some top tips to ease withdrawal symptoms include eating a healthful diet to get plenty of vitamin C and antioxidants to combat the damage from free radicals made by smoking and help to bolster the immune system to help deal with the stress of quitting smoking! Drink plenty of water to remove nicotine from the body via urination and consider taking Ginseng as it reduces the release of the reward chemical 'dopamine' from nicotine stimulation.
How long until the lungs recover?
While the lungs can clear tobacco smoke particles from recent tobacco smoke exposure in 8.7 breaths, the damage to the lungs takes much longer to repair. The sooner you switch to an E-Cigarette, the better!
At 48 hours since your last cigarette, the cilia that line the airways start to work again. These hair-like structures work to clear debris from the lungs which often results in coughing a lot. By 72 hours, the airways should be a lot clearer, making it easier to breathe, and the cardiovascular system should also be functioning better, improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the whole body!
How are nicotine tests affected by nicotine replacement products?
So - you have finally quit smoking and now want to get yourself a brand new health insurance plan - great! The insurers ask if you are a smoker, to which you say 'no' because you have gone 3 days without smoking, however you are quitting using a form of nicotine replacement therapy - nicotine patch, nicotine gum - so when they ask for a urine test, you are a little concerned. You are still taking in nicotine, but you aren't smoking; will the test results show you have been smoking when you haven't?
This is why a 'nicotine test' may actually be a 'cotinine test' or even a test for anabasine (a tobacco-specific alkaloid not present in nicotine replacement products). Cotinine is more stable in the body, making it a good indicator of tobacco use, but nicotine can be converted into cotinine and back again, making the anabasine test essential for smokers who have quit with NRT.
If you have quit using an E-Cigarette, then fear not! An anatabine test is suitable for those who quit smoking with E-Cigarettes!
How long does smoke stay in your lungs? Conclusion
Quitting smoking is a challenging time but knowing the milestones as you pass them can be a boost when you are struggling. Knowing that you can update your health insurance and that tests can tell the difference between using a nicotine product and actually smoking is another encouraging thought.
The effects of smoking won't be fully eliminated until you put at least a decade between you and your last cigarette, but many of the benefits of quitting happen fast - taste and smell returning, better lung function and a less-stressed cardiovascular system, to name a few. The sooner you quit, the sooner you will see these benefits!
E-Cigarettes have become one of the most successful ways to quit smoking, with studies indicating they could be up to twice as effective as other forms of nicotine replacement therapy! Quitting with an E-Cig still brings the benefits from quitting smoking like improved lung function and cardiovascular improvements - so what are you waiting for? Quit smoking with SMOKO today!