Can nicotine be detected in the urine

Analytics, biomonitoring, limit values


It is technically possible to determine the concentration of tobacco ingredients in indoor air, but in practice it usually makes little sense, especially since it must be taken into account that there are other sources of some pollutants (formaldehyde, PAH, benzene, toluene, etc.) in the indoor environment can. A more precise statement about the individual tobacco smoke exposure allows the determination of the nicotine / cotinine concentration in the urine or the nicotine in the hair (see "Biomonitoring").


The key substance for estimating exposure to tobacco smoke is nicotine. In addition to tobacco leaves, nicotine is also found in some foods such as tea, tomatoes, potatoes and green pepper, but the intake from food can usually be neglected compared to tobacco smoke (Umweltbundesamt 1996).

Nicotine and its metabolic product cotinine can be detected and analytically determined in blood serum and urine, nicotine also in hair. Nicotine is excreted from the body relatively quickly, the half-life is only about 0.5 to 2 hours. The excretion of cotinine, on the other hand, is somewhat slower, the half-life here is between 19 and 40 hours. The cotinine analysis in the serum or - as is usually the case - in the urine therefore has the advantage that exposure to tobacco smoke can still be detected 1 to 3 days after the end of exposure.

According to studies by the Federal Environment Agency as part of the Environmental Survey 1998, the mean nicotine content in the urine of non-smokers (never smokers) is below 2 micrograms per liter (cotinine: less than 4 micrograms per liter). With increasing cigarette consumption, the nicotine and cotinine levels in the urine rise and with a daily consumption of more than 20 cigarettes reach values ​​of 1080 micrograms nicotine and 2060 micrograms cotinine per liter (Becker and Seiwert 2002).

The determination of the nicotine in the scalp hair is the best way to prove permanent exposure to passive smoke. The hair acts as a so-called passive collector because it absorbs nicotine from the ambient air. The nicotine content in the hair of non-smokers is below 0.1 micrograms nicotine per gram of hair, in passive smokers it is around 0.8 micrograms nicotine per gram of hair and in active smokers it is much higher.

Data on passive smoking in children, which was collected as part of the Children's Environment Survey by the Federal Environment Agency, can be found here.

Limit values ​​and guide values

A nationwide non-smoker protection law has not yet been passed in Germany. An overview of the (unfortunately not uniform) state regulations can be found here.

Better protection of non-smokers in the workplace - that is the aim of the amendment to the Workplace Ordinance of July 31, 2002, in which employers are now expressly obliged to effectively protect non-smoking employees from the health hazards caused by tobacco smoke. The Youth Protection Act prohibits both the commercial sale of tobacco products to children and young people under the age of 16 and tobacco and alcohol advertising in cinemas before 6 p.m.

On March 22, 2007, the Prime Ministers of the federal states agreed on extensive non-smoking protection in restaurants, schools, kindergartens, authorities, discos and public transport, which came into force on August 1, 2007. In individual federal states, exceptions for small corner pubs, separate rooms in restaurants, festival tents and meadow restaurants are possible by state regulation. Overall, the acceptance of non-smoking protection in the catering industry has increased significantly in the past 12 years: 81% of all respondents spoke out in favor of a smoking ban in 2015, 74% were also in favor of a ban on e-cigarettes (Tabakatlas 2015, DKFZ).