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Smokers pay at least twice as much for life insurance as nonsmokers. Find out the costs, how insurers test for nicotine, and how to get nonsmoker premiums if you quit.
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Disclaimer: The content supplied here may be impacted by COVID-19. Contact a Policygenius agent for free to find out more.
If you smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco, or even use e-cigarettes your life insurance could cost two to three times more than it would otherwise, based on Policygenius quoting data in 2021. That’s because life insurance companies set your premiums by evaluating your health and lifestyle for risk, and nicotine use comes with known negative side effects.
Insurance companies evaluate your tobacco use with a nicotine test, and even after you quit you need to be nicotine-free for at least a year to qualify for nonsmoking premiums. Still, it’s important to be honest about your smoking, otherwise you could lose your coverage and leave your family without financial support when you die.
Insurers test for nicotine during the underwriting process
Most insurers treat you as a smoker if you vape, chew tobacco, or smoke marijuana daily
Smokers could pay up to three times more for life insurance than nonsmokers
Former smokers may be eligible for nonsmoking rates a year or more after quitting all nicotine
The life insurance quotes you receive will depend on the frequency of your tobacco use, how long you’ve been a smoker, and your overall health. Life insurance companies almost always categorize you as a smoker if you:
Vape (including marijuana)
Some providers might count smoking cessation products like nicotine patches and gum against you, too. Even though these are meant to help you quit, they’re picked up by routine nicotine testing.
There’s more flexibility for cannabis users and cigar smokers who don’t smoke every day. The perceived risk of marijuana users varies widely across providers. Cigar smokers who smoke less than one cigar per month (or less than 12 per year) could be eligible for nonsmoker premiums after a negative nicotine screening.
Smoker premiums can be two to three times higher than nonsmoker premiums. The tables below reflect sample term life insurance premiums for a man and a woman at four different ages and in two health classes, Preferred and Standard, at both smoker and nonsmoker rates. The following quotes are for a $500,000 policy and a 20-year term:
Sample Preferred rates, nonsmoker vs. smoker:
|Age||SEX||Monthly premium (Nonsmoker)||Monthly premium (Smoker)|
Sample Standard rates, nonsmoker vs. smoker:
|Age||SEX||Monthly premium (Nonsmoker)||Monthly premium (Smoker)|
Each insurer weighs smoking habits differently when setting premiums. If you currently smoke or use other nicotine products, it’s important to get quotes from multiple insurance companies to find the most affordable policy.
When you apply for life insurance, your insurance provider assesses your health and lifestyle during underwriting and assigns you a health classification based on the risk of insuring you. That risk determines your monthly or annual premiums.
The four main health classifications are Preferred Plus, Preferred, Standard Plus, and Standard. Those with a more complex medical profile might receive a Substandard rating, also called a Table rating. Preferred Plus applicants receive the most affordable premiums, and prices increase from there.
Because nicotine use is extremely common and comes with proven long-term health risks, insurers also divide applicants into two broader categories: smoker (or tobacco) and nonsmoker (or non-tobacco). Even if you’re otherwise very healthy, receiving a Preferred Smoker classification earns you much higher premiums than a Preferred Nonsmoker applicant.
In an initial phone call, your insurance agent or broker will ask whether and how often you smoke or use nicotine. They’ll then confirm your answers with a nicotine test during a medical exam.
Nicotine stays in your blood for up to three days, but cotinine—a byproduct of your body metabolizing nicotine—can last for longer than a week. Urine and blood testing can show signs of smoking more than one week after your last use. The life insurance medical exam will test for both nicotine and cotinine to determine whether you smoke or use other nicotine products.
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There’s no partial credit for reducing your nicotine use. If you want nonsmoking rates from a life insurer, you need to permanently stop using tobacco.
While quitting cold turkey right before you apply for a policy might seem like a good idea, it won’t help you get better premiums. Nonsmoker premiums aren’t available for at least one year after you quit and you usually aren’t eligible for Preferred or Preferred Plus ratings until two to five years after quitting, according to 2021 Policygenius data from our partner insurers.
That said, some insurance companies treat former smokers more favorably in the underwriting process than others. An independent broker like Policygenius can help you find the right policy for your age, lifestyle, and health history, including past nicotine use.
Here’s how we rank the best life insurance companies for former smokers. Excellent denotes insurers that offer Preferred health ratings to former smokers who have quit in the last one to two years and Good reflects insurers who may offer Standard health ratings after one to two years. Fair marks providers who may not offer nonsmoker rates within two years.
If you’re in the midst of kicking a smoking habit, it’s possible that in a year, you’ll qualify for lower, nonsmoker life insurance premiums. But it can take several tries to give up smoking for good, and on average, life insurance rates increase by 4.5-9% each year that you delay applying.
If you have dependents or loved ones who benefit from your financial support, you should get a policy now. You can buy a term life policy and cancel your coverage without penalty after you’ve secured a more affordable policy or ask your insurer for a rate reconsideration once you’re tobacco-free for more than a year.
If you don’t want to commit to a term policy, annual renewable life insurance can provide some coverage while you’re in the process of quitting, though it can become expensive over time since premiums increase each year.
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If you lie about your nicotine use, pass the medical screening without it showing up in your system, and are issued a nonsmoker policy, you could be putting your family at risk.
The first two years after your policy is in forceare the contestability period. If you die during that period, the insurance company can review your application materials to look for intentional omissions or misrepresentations.
If your insurer finds that you lied about something on your application—for example, saying you don’t smoke when you actually do—they can reduce the insurance payout or not pay out at all. If they discover a lie while you’re still alive they can cancel your policy, leaving your loved ones unprotected.
As a smoker, you’ll likely pay more for life insurance than your nonsmoking peers. But understanding which products life insurers include in their definition of tobacco use and how they assess them during underwriting can help you find the right policy.
Make sure to be forthcoming about your smoking history and frequency, otherwise you risk losing your coverage and financial protection for your loved ones. If you give up nicotine entirely, you may receive more affordable life insurance as soon as a year after your last use, and an annual renewable policy can offer some coverage while you’re in the process of quitting.
Due to the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus pandemic, some insurers are modifying processes and/or imposing coverage restrictions on certain health conditions or age groups. Speak to a Policygenius agent for free to find out how to get the most affordable policy.
You can still get life insurance if you smoke, but you’ll pay more. Smoking may also exclude you from certain life insurance options, such as no-medical exam policies.
Smokers will pay about 2-3x more for life insurance compared to nonsmokers of similar age and health history. This estimate could differ during the coronavirus pandemic.
To qualify for nonsmoker rates, most companies require you to be smoke-free for at least one year. You can get life insurance if you still smoke or if you’re in the process of quitting, but it will be costlier.
Amanda Shih is a life insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has a passion for making complex topics relatable and understandable, and has been writing about insurance since 2017 with specialities in life insurance cost and policy types. She's previously written for Jetty and LegalZoom.
Amanda has a B.A. in literature and communication from New York University.
Rebecca Shoenthal is a life insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City, specializing in buying life insurance and the ins and outs of life insurance ownership. She's edited business books by the country’s top academics, politicians, journalists, thought leaders and CEOs, including venture capitalist John Doerr’s Measure What Matters, entrepreneur Scott Belsky's The Messy Middle, NYU Stern professor Scott Galloway's The Four, and technologist John Maeda's How to Speak Machine.
Rebecca has a B.A. in Media and Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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