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.

Why do smokers have different life insurance rates?

Smokers life expectancy statistics show that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 16 million Americans have a smoking-related disease. And, estimates show that more than 480,000 deaths are due to smoking each year, making it a significant potential health hazard. Additionally, those who smoke are at a higher risk for developing lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.

In turn, smokers generally have higher life insurance rates than non-smokers. This is because life insurance is based in part on life expectancy, and smokers are considered at higher risk of premature death. In other words, the insurance company determines that by insuring a smoker, it will likely have to pay out a death benefit to the beneficiary sooner than it would for a non-smoker. As such, higher rates are calculated to ensure that the insurance company is getting a premium that adequately covers the risk.

In addition, smokers who have certain medical conditions in addition to smoking may be denied a life insurance policy. That is why it is important to disclose everything on your application, including if you use a nicotine patch. If you have a medical condition and want to apply for life insurance, it may benefit you to speak with a licensed agent to find out what companies may be willing to work with you.

How do life insurance companies classify smokers?

Life insurance companies will likely classify you as a smoker if you smoke cigarettes, cigars or chew tobacco. In addition, if you vape tobacco or marijuana, even on an occasional basis, your life insurance company may also classify you as a smoker. Using nicotine gum or wearing nicotine patches may result in a smoker classification, too. While occasional cigar users (1-2 cigars per month) might be categorized as non-tobacco users, it depends on the policies of the insurance company.

Cannabis usage may also be factored in differently by each company. Depending on the company’s policies, it may consider the legality in your state (illegal use may disqualify you from coverage), whether you have a medical marijuana card, your method and frequency of usage, and more.

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.

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