Life Insurance for Smokers
If you’re a smoker and have applied for life insurance, you already know life insurance for smokers is more expensive than for non-smokers.
And not be a small margin!
When it comes to life insurance, smoking falls in a high-risk category all its own. Because it is closely linked to serious medical conditions, particularly cancer and heart disease, insurance companies increase premiums substantially to cover the potential onset of one of those conditions should you die while the policy is in force.
But like everything else related to life insurance, life insurance for smokers has many nuances, and depending on the provider you choose can also be a matter of degree.
What’s more, there are strategies you can use to at least lower the premiums you’ll pay for life insurance.
How Life Insurance Companies View Smokers
Many life insurance companies paint with a very broad brush when it comes to smoking. While one person may smoke two packs of cigarettes per day, and another may only two packs per month, the company will view them both in the same light – as smokers.
In fact, any use of nicotine products such as chewing tobacco, nicotine gum, smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes, even marijuana users and any other tobacco products all fall under the smoker’s umbrella as far as life insurance agencies are concerned.
There’s evidence that even light smoking, even with cigar smokers, carries similar health risks to heavy smoking. What’s more concerning, occasional smokers are very likely to become heavy smokers eventually.
The risk factors aren’t lost on life insurance companies, who must accurately price life insurance policies to reflect those risks while still enabling the company to write policies profitably for smokers.
The question of tobacco use appears on virtually all life insurance applications. If you’re subject to a medical exam, which is typical of most life insurance policies, your nicotine habit is very likely to be discovered, most likely through cotinine in your urine test.
How Do Insurance Companies Know If You Are A Smoker?
During the exam, the insurance company measures Nicotine levels in your blood, urine, or even saliva to determine nicotine use.
If you smoke even occasionally, the nicotine or cotinine will appear in the test. But beyond direct testing, life insurance companies make use of medical databases, like the MIB.
Since the database includes detailed medical records going back many years, it’s very likely your smoking habit will be indicated somewhere in the data.
It’s always best to be completely truthful about a smoking habit when applying for life insurance. If you say you’re not a tobacco user, but the medical exam or the MIB indicates you are, your application may be denied, or your premium will be priced accordingly.
Unfortunately, there’s potentially a worse outcome. If you succeed in hiding your smoking habit, and your policy is approved, the company can deny payment of your death benefit to your loved ones if the cause of death can be traced to smoking. Life insurance companies can do that legally because it’s considered to be insurance fraud.
Different Types of Smokers – Same Life Insurance Result
Among smokers, there are different types of tobacco use that they may not see as “smoking,” but life insurance agents will.
Let’s take a look at the possibilities:
Your definition of “occasionally” and the life insurance company’s definition will likely be very different.
The insurance company may consider “occasionally” smoking a cigar twice a year. But if you think smoking cigarettes, say a pack of cigarettes per week, qualifies as occasionally, the insurance company will most likely disagree.
You may exclude marijuana use from your application because strictly speaking, it isn’t tobacco.
But since cannabis is another form of smoking, some life insurance companies will just consider you to be a smoker. Others may rate or reject your application, considering you to be a drug user, whether legalized in some states or not.
Vaping and E-Cigarettes
Many people who vape don’t think they’re smoking. Life insurance coverage providers may agree, at least to varying degrees.
Now vaping is considered to be a health risk all its own, even though it may not be as risky as smoking. In fact, it is a rising crisis amongst younger generations and proving more deadly.
Science is providing more and more information each year, but research is showing when you vape, you’re still taking toxins into your lungs from the various chemicals in vape juice.
Not only are you inhaling toxins, but the degree of addiction is also so high that it has now become a hot legal issue. Legislation is being pushed to ban many flavored and other vaping products completely, as well as impose a severe tax on any other remaining legal vaping products.
And where vaping can become indistinguishable from cigarette smokers, many vaping products include nicotine.
Cigar and Pipe Smoking
Cigar and pipe smoking are two additional activities that many may not associate with smoking.
But if you use either even occasionally, a life insurance company is likely to consider you to be a smoker. After all, both cigar and pipe smoking use tobacco. Prudential is one life insurance provider that may not qualify cigar smoking with cigarette smoking.
Also, be careful with smoking cessation products, like nicotine patches or gum. Since they contain nicotine, it will show up in urine tests.
You must explain to the insurance company your use of a nicotine patch, so you can qualify for non-smoker rates.
Likewise, if you disclose you chew tobacco, some life insurance carriers will be more lenient than if you smoke cigarettes.
How Much Are Life Insurance Rates for Smokers?
How much higher? Based on life insurance quotes we’ve received, you can generally expect to pay premiums on term life insurance policies as much as four times higher than for non-tobacco users.
Non-Smoker Sample Rate
For example, quotes obtained from PolicyGenius show that a 35-year-old male in excellent health applying for $500,000 in 20-year term life insurance as a non-smoker with monthly premiums ranging from $21.07 to $35. The results are from 11 different insurance companies.
Smoker Sample Rate
But using the same applicant profile – but making him a smoker – shows monthly premiums ranging from $84.63 to $136.43, also from 11 different insurance companies.
Given that the difference in premiums charged to smokers compared to non-smokers is so dramatic, you may need to apply for a smaller policy to make the premium more affordable.
Don’t be discouraged if this is the only choice, remember, having any life insurance is better than no life insurance at all – even if you consider the death benefit to be less than optimal.
Smokers are Affected by Other Health Conditions
When applying for life insurance, smoking isn’t the only risk factor that may be involved in your application.
When evaluating insurance applicants, companies look at all risk factors associated with that person.
There are three likely life insurance classifications for smokers, and each will involve a different premium structure:
- Preferred Smoker: this is for individuals who smoke cigarettes but are otherwise in excellent health. To qualify for this rating, you’ll also need a family history that’s free of major health issues.
- Standard Smoker: you’re a smoker, not in excellent health but not in poor health either. For example, you may qualify for this rating if you are a smoker and are also overweight (but not obese) or have well-controlled hypertension.
- Table Rating: this is the premium rating for those who have less than average health. It may apply if you are a smoker, and either have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or a previous cancer diagnosis.
Each of the above ratings will have its own premium range, with preferred smokers getting the best rates available.
Table ratings apply to higher risk, and the range of possible premiums will likely be unknown at the time of application. It will be based on a complete evaluation of your health, with special pricing provisions for each risk factor.
If you’re a smoker, you’ll certainly want to qualify for the preferred smoker rating. This makes a strong case for maintaining good health. Be sure to eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, maintain proper body weight, avoid other high-risk activities, and get routine physicals and evaluations as necessary.
How to Get Affordable Life Insurance For Smokers
Even if you are a smoker, it may be possible to get lower rates using one or more of the strategies below:
Participate in a smoking cessation program
By doing so, you’re committing to quit smoking. Be aware that insurance companies have time limits on program participation.
You won’t be able to enter a smoking cessation program one week, then apply for life insurance the next. Companies will typically require your participation in the program for anywhere from 12 to 24 months.
But even with completing a smoking cessation program, you may still pay a higher rate than a smoke-free applicant. However, it’ll be lower than a full smoking rate.
Work with insurance companies that specialize in life insurance for smokers
Not all life insurance companies view life insurance for smokers in the same way.
First, some companies specialize in the smoker niche and may offer coverage at lower rates.
Second, some may have more accommodating thresholds on what constitutes a smoker.
For example, they may give more favorable consideration to a light smoker than to someone who smokes heavily.
Take a term life insurance policy, rather than whole life
There’s no way to put this politely. The main reason life insurance companies evaluate risk in underwriting and pricing a policy is a likelihood the applicant will die while the policy is in force. Put another way, the primary job of life insurance underwriting is to limit the number of claims that will be paid on a policy.
Whole life insurance policies represent permanent life insurance. That is, once you take a policy, it cannot be canceled except for non-payment of premiums. In granting such policies, life insurance companies prefer to offer them to applicants with lower risk profiles.
But if you have a high-risk profile, like being a smoker, you might get approved for a term life insurance policy rather than whole life, and at a much more affordable premium.
This will be particularly true on shorter-term policies, like a 10-year term. Even if you are a heavy smoker, an insurance company may judge they’re not likely to need to pay a claim within the term of the policy.
Consider no-exam life insurance for smokers
This doesn’t eliminate the smoker factor since you’ll need to disclose your smoking habit on the application.
But if you have other health conditions that you’d rather not disclose, and you’re comfortable with a lower death benefit, simplified issue life insurance can be an option.
Just be aware that the premiums on no-exam life insurance can be high, even with a much lower death benefit.
Do You Need Life Insurance As A Smoker?
If you’re a smoker and you’ve never applied for life insurance before, the information in this article may be unsettling. But that shouldn’t prevent you from applying for coverage.
As we’ve shown, there are various strategies that will enable you to keep your premium to a minimum. They will start by applying for coverage through the best life insurance company that takes a more favorable view of smokers.
You’ll be able to know that by the companies that provide lower life insurance quotes than the competition. You can do that quickly and easily by getting quotes through PolicyGenius right from our website.
Apart from finding the right company, be sure to maintain overall good or excellent health, and be prepared to lower the amount of the policy to a premium level you can afford.
Even if it’s not all the coverage you want, it’ll be better than going without life insurance at all. That would be the worst of all possible options, especially if you have dependents.