Life insurance for smokers

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If you have been looking for a good reason to quit smoking, here is one: your premium rates for life insurance as a smoker are roughly two or three times more than what they would be if you were a non-smoker. Smokers are one group of people who pay a serious penalty when buying life insurance, just like high-risk drivers pay more for auto insurance than safe drivers.

But that does not mean smokers cannot get a life insurance policy. It is still possible to find reasonable rates if you do your homework, get multiple quotes and ask questions while you research. It is important to understand what constitutes smoking to a life insurance company, the best types of policy for you as a smoker and other factors that matter when you are in the market for a life insurance policy.

Defining smokers for life insurance

When you apply for life insurance, one of the questions on the application asks if you smoke. But the company will not just take your word for it. In the medical exam, which is a requirement for most (but not all, as we will discuss later) policies, a sample of blood, saliva or urine will be taken. When analyzed, this will indicate if there is nicotine or cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, in your system. If this evidence is found, you will be classified by the company as a smoker.

Any tobacco use will be clear, whether from cigarettes, pipe smoking, chewing tobacco, vaping or cigars. The blood test will also show if your system contains THC, which indicates marijuana use. Any of these will indicate that you belong in the smoking category — and are subject to higher premium rates.

Even if you have recently quit smoking, there may be a residue of nicotine in your body. Generally, insurers want you to be nicotine-free for at least one year before you are considered to be a non-smoker.

Best types of life insurance for smokers

The best life insurance for smokers will depend on their specific needs for the policy. Even if you are a smoker, there are several policy types that you may purchase, and although you may pay more than a non-smoker would, you should be able to find more than one company that will write you a policy.

  • Term life insurance: The simplest and cheapest kind of life insurance, term life insurance lasts for a specific number of years — usually 10, 20 or 30 — and includes a death benefit paid out if you pass away during the policy’s term. After the term is over, there is no other benefit or payback. This is the most affordable life insurance for smokers.
  • Whole life insurance: A whole life insurance policy is permanent coverage that will remain in force as long as you pay the premium. In addition, a portion of your premium will be put into a savings vehicle that you can draw from once a certain amount has accumulated. Although whole life insurance can play a role in a comprehensive financial plan, it will not be the cheapest option for a smoker or nonsmoker.
  • Guaranteed issue insurance: Guaranteed issue insurance is a unique type of permanent life insurance policy that does not require a medical exam or health screening. If you are a smoker or have an existing health condition, this may appeal to you, though coverage limits are usually capped around $25,000. Your premiums will not be based on your smoking behavior but will instead take into account your age, gender and the amount of coverage you would like. The caveat with this type of life insurance is it can be more expensive than medically underwritten life insurance for a smoker in generally good health.

What happens if you lie on a life insurance application about smoking?

It’s never a good idea to lie on a life insurance application. If that lie is discovered, your application may be denied. An insurer could also withhold the death benefit from your beneficiaries if the lie is found upon your death — and that is a risk you do not want to take.

Insurers have several ways in which they may find out if you have lied. First, the life insurance smoker test that is part of the medical exam will indicate nicotine use. Your insurer may also scrutinize your medical records, past life insurance applications and even your social media feeds. They may work with an investigator to track down any traces of smoking if they have reason to suspect that you are lying.

How much more does life insurance cost for smokers?

Your life insurance cost is determined by multiple factors, including your age, gender and general health. If you add smoking to the list, your premiums may be two or three times as much as someone who doesn’t smoke.

Why the increase? Smokers are statistically more likely to die from cancer, for one thing. But cigarette smoking can also lead to other illnesses, including gastrointestinal diseases and high blood pressure. In short, it makes you a higher risk for multiple diseases that may impact your health.

What if you quit smoking?

Unless you need coverage immediately, it can be a good idea to wait at least a year after you quit smoking before applying for life insurance. Some insurers look for you to be smoke-free for at least that long to qualify for lower rates.

If you have recently quit and need a policy in place as soon as possible, you may be able to obtain short-term life insurance or a policy that allows you to re-negotiate your premium costs down the line after some time has passed. Ask your insurance agent if your policy will allow this.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best life insurance company?

No one company has the best life insurance for smokers since everyone has unique needs. A good place to start looking is on our listing of the Best Life Insurance Companies of 2020, all of whom offer excellent coverage at a competitive price.

Is term or whole life insurance better for a smoker?

That depends on what you are looking for in a policy. One perk to look for in your insurance is whether you can re-negotiate your premium if your situation changes — such as when you quit smoking.

Does exposure to second-hand smoke matter to my insurer?

Probably not. But that depends on the severity of the exposure; if cotinine or nicotine show up in your blood test, you may be penalized for it, even if it’s from breathing in the smoke of others.

Written by
Mary Van Keuren
Insurance Contributor
Mary Van Keuren has five years of experience writing for insurance domains such as Bankrate.com, Coverage.com and Thesimpledollar.com. She has also written extensively for consumer websites including reviews.com and myslumberyard.com. Prior to that she worked as a writer in academia for several decades.