Life insurance eligibility and rates are impacted by several factors, including your health. Since life insurance companies determine premiums based on risk, the healthier a person is, the cheaper life insurance will generally be. One of the questions on a life insurance application is whether you smoke or not, as well as the type of tobacco products you use. Since smokers have a higher mortality rate than non-smokers, you can expect to pay a higher life insurance premium if you currently use tobacco or have a recent history of smoking. Here, Bankrate’s insurance editorial team breaks down life insurance for smokers.

Life insurance for smokers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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 the mortality rates associated with smoking, and they price their policies accordingly.

If you’re a smoker applying for life insurance, you may pay two to three times more for a health insurance policy than a non-smoker. 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. Below we outline several.

Learn more: How to buy life insurance without a medical exam


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 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 typically 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 several states and the District of Columbia. As a result, more Americans are using 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 does nicotine stay in your system?

How long it takes to get nicotine out of your system varies based on several factors. Testing for tobacco relies on a sample of your blood, urine, saliva or hair. Depending on the sample used for the test, nicotine can be detected for a few days (in your blood, for instance) to up to a year (with a hair test).

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 many 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 could be denied, which may put your loved ones in financial jeopardy. Lying to a life insurance provider about your tobacco use could also be seen as fraud, which might 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.

Can I still get life insurance if I smoke?

You may still be able to get life insurance if you smoke, but keep in mind you might face a higher premium. Every life insurance company has a different underwriting process, so each company will determine your eligibility and rate based on your level of risk.

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, you can ask your provider for a rate reconsideration once you think you will test clean for nicotine. 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 level of your exposure. 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.