So you think you're going to lower your life insurance premium by switching from Marlboros to one of those new electronic, vapor-driven e-cigarettes?
Think again, because life insurers aren't buying it, at least not so far.
Life insurers say 'vaping' is smoking
A recent survey of 151 life insurance underwriters conducted by the German reinsurance company Munich Re found that 9 in 10 considered e-cigarette users to be smokers.
Life insurance companies routinely charge higher premiums to those who light up because their habit poses a higher mortality risk, meaning the insurer will have to pony up on death benefits sooner rather than later. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that tobacco use cuts 10 years off life expectancy, limiting the amount of premiums a life insurer will collect before the reaper rings.
The billion-dollar question is, does the same hold true for "vaping," as e-cigarette use is nicknamed?
Makers of e-cigarettes argue that not only is vapor a healthier delivery system than lighting up, but also e-cigarettes can be an effective tool to quit smoking. Health officials aren't on board with that just yet, pointing out that e-cigs may carry their own set of risks, including serving as a nonflammable gateway drug for kids.
Life insurers, and presumably health insurers as well, have a much simpler method to measure the risk of e-cigarettes: they test for the presence of cotinine in your blood or urine. That's the substance that's formed when nicotine enters your system.
Not seen as a less unhealthy alternative
Since insurers don't particularly care how the nicotine got there, they're unlikely to be persuaded by the benefits of vaping over smoking, dipping or chewing, according to Munich America chief underwriter Bill Moore.
"When that test is positive, an underwriter says this individual has used nicotine, so they are a higher risk class. An underwriter has a real challenging time figuring out what the source of that nicotine is," he was quoted saying by Bloomberg Businessweek.
In fact, because e-cigarettes can deliver a higher dose of nicotine than an unfiltered Camel, insurers will keep an eye out for signs that they contribute to other health risks, such as high blood pressure or stroke.
"Quantifying that is next to impossible until more experience is gathered," says Moore.
Until then, to paraphrase Merle Travis, "Smoke, smoke, smoke that (e-)cigarette."
Here's how Obamacare opened the door to a smoker's surcharge.
Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.
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