Life insurance is designed to help you provide for your loved ones if the unthinkable happens and you pass away. If you’re looking for life insurance as a smoker, you may want to do a little extra research. A life insurance company’s smoker rate is typically two to three times more expensive than average rates for non-smokers. Why? Smoking is a high-risk activity. Similarly, high-risk drivers pay higher premiums for auto insurance.

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Smoking may make it more difficult to find a cheap life insurance rate, but finding the right policy for you is still possible. To make the process easier, you may want to learn more about the application process, the best types of life insurance for you and what happens if you quit smoking.

Applying for life insurance as a smoker

When you apply for life insurance, your application will typically ask you if you’re a smoker. Life insurance companies treat smokers as high-risk policyholders, since smokers are more likely to develop health issues and pass away at a younger age.

Your life insurance company will likely fact check your application by requiring a medical exam. Most (but not all) life insurance policies require you to complete this exam. During the medical exam, a sample of blood, saliva or urine may be taken. When analyzed, it can indicate whether nicotine or cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, is in your system. If this evidence is found, you will likely be classified by the company as a smoker.

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

Even if you have recently quit smoking, there may be remnants 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. Speaking to a licensed insurance agent may help you determine which policy type is best for your individual needs.

  • 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 generally 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 likely 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 typically 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 you lie on your life insurance application and your insurer discovers the misinformation, your application may be denied. An insurer could also withhold the death benefit from your beneficiaries if the lie is found upon your death.

Insurers have several ways in which they may determine the validity of the information provided on your application. 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.

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. Cigarette smoking can also lead to other illnesses, including gastrointestinal diseases and high blood pressure. In short, smoking makes you a higher risk for multiple diseases that may negatively 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 be re-rated 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?

The best life insurance company will vary based on your individual needs. A licensed insurance agent can point you towards the best life insurance companies offering the type of policy you want. According to our analysis, State Farm, MassMutual and Nationwide are highly ranked in categories such as customer service and accessibility.

Is term or whole life insurance better for a smoker?

Whether you should choose term or whole life insurance depends on what your insurance needs are. A whole life insurance policy may be a great option for someone who wants lifelong coverage and a cash value account, whereas term life insurance may be a better option for those who only need coverage for a specific span of time. One perk to look for in your insurance is whether you can be re-rated 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.