Tobacco and life insurance explained
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Many factors impact your eligibility for life insurance and the cost of your policy, including your tobacco use. When you apply for life insurance, you will be asked to disclose whether you smoke, and if so, what type of tobacco products you use. Because the mortality rate for smokers is roughly three times higher than non-smokers, you can expect to pay a much higher life insurance premium if you use tobacco. Here’s what you need to know about getting life insurance if you currently use tobacco, or have a history of smoking.
The cost of tobacco use on life insurance
According to the CDC, tobacco use is the leading cause of “preventable disease, disability and death.” Furthermore, smoking-related illness is estimated to cost society more than $300 billion every year. Life insurance providers are well aware of this, and they price their policies accordingly.
If you’re a smoker applying for life insurance, you can expect to pay two to three times more for a health insurance policy than a non-smoker pays. However, some “smoker-friendly” insurance companies might be willing to work with you on premium rates.
Types of tobacco that life insurance companies care about
To get life insurance, you’re often required to take a medical exam, which may include a test for nicotine. But life insurance companies don’t just test for nicotine during the exam. Cotinine is an alkaloid found in the body after nicotine is metabolized, so it’s an indicator of nicotine use. If you’re wondering about getting a cotinine test, life insurance providers will probably look for it.
Life insurance companies care about all types of tobacco use, including:
Life insurance underwriting classifies applicants as being either a tobacco risk or non-tobacco risk. Smokers who use cigarettes regularly are considered high risk to insure, so you’ll definitely be classified as a tobacco risk if you apply for life insurance as a current cigarette smoker.
If you only smoke cigars irregularly, some life insurance providers might cut you a break. But you can only smoke a few cigars a year. And it’s possible that some life insurers won’t make a distinction between occasional cigar use and regular cigarette use.
Life insurance providers generally don’t separate vaping from regular cigarette smoking. If you use e-cigarette or vaping products, expect that the provider will designate you a smoker, just like if you used traditional tobacco.
Smoking cessation products
Products that help you quit smoking like nicotine gum and nicotine patches, still leave traces of cotinine in your body. So if you use these products, you’ll still probably be classified as a tobacco risk, even though there’s no tobacco in the products.
Types of tobacco use that life insurance companies test for
When you apply for different types of life insurance, smoker tests are the industry standard. Although tobacco is the main concern for life insurance companies, tobacco tests usually aren’t the best way to tell if someone is a smoker. Instead, providers can test for cotinine.
Here’s what life insurance companies test for:
Tobacco-based nicotine products
All tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco are considered high-risk factors for life insurance providers. If you use any of these products, even occasionally, then you’ll probably be placed in the tobacco-user risk class, which means your premiums will be much higher than they would be if you didn’t smoke.
Nicotine products without tobacco
Life insurance providers usually test for cotinine. That means even if you use nicotine products without tobacco, you’ll still probably be placed in the tobacco-user risk class. In the eyes of life insurance providers, E-cigarettes, nicotine gum and nicotine patches are still considered products that put you at risk for a shorter lifespan, and therefore, you get charged a higher rate.
Marijuana is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. As a result, more Americans are beginning to use it. If you’re a frequent marijuana smoker, you’ll most likely be classified as a smoker by your insurance provider and have to pay higher rates. Insurance companies typically require a blood and urine sample that screens for THC. If you only use edibles rather than smoke, you may be able to qualify for non-smoking rates, but it could be tricky to prove that to your insurance company. And your rates could still increase for using marijuana recreationally, even if you’re in excellent health.
Keep in mind that medical marijuana has the potential to impact your life insurance rates, too. While it’s not guaranteed that using medical marijuana will result in a higher life insurance premium, it’s a good idea to speak to the life insurance provider about your specific situation. If you do use medical marijuana, you may need to submit a copy of your medical marijuana card or a note from your doctor explaining the condition you were diagnosed with and why marijuana is part of your treatment protocol.
How long tobacco stays in your system
Testing for tobacco relies on a sample of your blood, urine, saliva or hair. Depending on the sample used for the test, nicotine can usually be detected for a few weeks after use. However, nicotine use can occasionally be detected up to a year later with a hair test. If you’re wondering how long nicotine stays in your system, you should keep in mind that it could last for up to 12 months.
To be considered a non-smoker for life insurance purposes, providers usually want you to be smoke-free for a year. Even if you quit smoking months ago and don’t think the insurance company will be able to detect anything in your system, you should never lie about your smoking habits or when you quit.
If you lie about your tobacco use and the provider finds out, then claims on your life insurance policy will be denied, which could put your loved ones in financial jeopardy. Lying to a life insurance provider about your tobacco use could also be seen as fraud, which could come with legal ramifications. For this reason, the best policy is always to be completely honest on all health questions in the life insurance application process.
How former tobacco users can get the same rates as non-users
When you sign up for a new life insurance policy, the provider will probably ask if you’ve used nicotine in the last 12 months. To be considered a non-smoker for life insurance, you’ll need to be nicotine-free for at least a year.
If you already have a life insurance policy and you’ve quit smoking, then you can ask your provider for a rate reconsideration. At this point, your provider will likely require you to take another medical exam. You also have the option to search for a different provider and start fresh with a new non-smoker life insurance policy.
Frequently asked questions
Life insurance is highly individualized, based on the health and age of the policyholder, as well as their financial situation and desired coverage. So the best life insurance company for one person might not be the best for another. To find the best life insurance company for you, it may be helpful to get quotes from multiple providers and see which one can offer you the best coverage options.
According to the CDC, secondhand smoke can cause health issues. Whether or not smoking affects your insurance rates depends on the amount of exposure you’ve had to it. Secondhand smoke exposure can be detected using a cotinine test, so it’s possible that secondhand smoke could result in a provider classifying you as a tobacco user.
Depending on the test and frequency of use, it’s possible to pass a nicotine test after you’ve been smoke-free for a few weeks. However, many life insurance providers will only classify you as a non-user after you’ve quit for a year. So if you want a lower life insurance premium, your best bet is to quit for a full 12 months before applying for a policy.
After a life insurance policyholder passes away, their designated beneficiary receives a death benefit, which is typically a lump sum payout from the insurance company. If you are the beneficiary on a deceased person’s life insurance policy, you are responsible for filing a claim with their insurance provider and submitting a copy of their death certificate.
After the insurance company has verified the policyholder’s death and confirms that you are the legal beneficiary, you should receive the death benefit, as long as no policy violations are identified during the claims process.