Life insurance companies test for nicotine during your paramedical exam. It’s pretty obvious why: smoking has a slew of negative health effects, so if you’re a smoker there’s a good chance that you’ll die earlier than a non-smoker.
From the insurer’s point of view this makes you riskier to insure, which makes you more expensive to insure. That increase in expense finds its way back to you in the form of a worse classification and higher premiums.
So your best bet is to quit smoking, right?
Yes, for a lot of reasons. You’ll save on life insurance premiums. You’ll save on the cost of cigarettes. You’ll be healthier. It’s overall better for you.
"Or I’ll just quit right before I apply so the insurer doesn’t know I smoke and won’t charge me more!"
Sure, you could do that, but there’s bad news: it (probably) won’t work.
During your paramedical exam, you’ll give a blood sample, and a urine sample is sometimes required, too. This allows the insurer to test for a whole host of medical issues, one of which is nicotine.
Signs of nicotine will last in your blood for up to 3 days, but cotinine – which is what nicotine metabolizes into in the body and is a sure sign that nicotine was present – can last for longer than a week. When it comes to a urine test, it can take almost a month to get all signs of smoking out of your system. That means if you wait until right before your paramedical exam, you’ll be out of luck.
Then there’s the fact that when you apply for life insurance, you’ll be asked if you use tobacco products and when the last time any use took place. You should be honest: if the insurer finds out you lied on your application, they can use that fraud to cancel your policy or refuse to pay the death benefit. So if you quit a month before you apply but say that it’s been more than a year since you last smoked, it could get you into hot water.
It’s also really, really hard to quit smoking. Even though a recent study has found that smokers who quit cold turkey were less likely to continue smoking after 6 months than those who quit gradually, that number still only sat at 22%. If your plan is to quit smoking before your exam, there’s a high chance you’ll relapse before then.
Finally, if you decide to forego the cold turkey route and quit with the help of smoking cessation products, you still might not pass the nicotine test. Since these products are used to wean you off cigarettes, they deliver nicotine to your system that could be picked up during your exam.
Overall, while you should stop smoking, you shouldn’t do it just for your life insurance exam because there are other good reasons to quit. If you are taking your life insurance premiums into account, though, you have a few options.
First, you can either hold off on applying. It’s that simple: just wait until you’re nicotine free and confident that you’ll have a better health profile for the insurer.
Second, go ahead and take the exam, after which you'll likely be classified as a smoker. If you don’t like the results you’re under no obligation to purchase the policy.
Finally, you can take the exam and follow through with the policy. Many insurers will allow you to retake your paramedical exam after the first year of your policy and although the first exam will stay on record, you may be able to negotiate a lower premium if the results are better the second time around.