Life insurance and nicotine use

Everything you need to know about life insurance and nicotine use, including rates for smokers, how insurers test for nicotine, and how to get nonsmoker rates after you’ve quit.

Jennifer Pan

Jennifer Pan

Published January 31, 2020

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • People who smoke or regularly use other nicotine products can typically expect to pay about 2 to 3 times more for life insurance than nonsmokers

  • Life insurance carriers will determine if you smoke by running a nicotine test during the medical exam portion of the underwriting process

  • Most insurers will also assign you smoker (or tobacco) rates if you vape, chew tobacco, or regularly smoke marijuana

  • Former smokers may be eligible for nonsmoking rates after a year or more of not smoking

If you smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco, or even use a Juul, you’ll probably pay more for life insurance. That’s because life insurance companies set your rates by evaluating your risk, and — as you’re well aware — smoking is a risky behavior.

Generally, people who smoke or regularly use other nicotine products can expect to pay about 2 to 3 times more for life insurance than nonsmokers. Here’s what you need to know about buying life insurance as a current smoker, including how the life insurance medical exam and nicotine screening work, and how to get nonsmoker rates after you’ve quit smoking.

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How smoking and nicotine use affect life insurance rates

When you apply for life insurance, your insurance carrier will assess your health and lifestyle during the underwriting process and assign you a health classification, which in turn will determine your rates.

Insurers view smoking and other use of nicotine as such a high risk that they also divide applicants into two broader categories: smoker (or tobacco) and non-smoker (or non-tobacco). In the initial interview, your insurer will ask questions about whether and how often you smoke or use nicotine, then run a nicotine test during the medical exam.

Who is considered a smoker for life insurance purposes?

Even if you only smoke cigarettes socially or on occasion, you’ll still receive smoking rates from life insurance companies.

Most insurance companies will also assign smoker or tobacco rates if you use products like chewing tobacco or vaping devices like a Juul; many will also count you as a smoker if you regularly smoke marijuana, though some carriers offer marijuana users nonsmoker rates depending on frequency of use

The one exception is smoking an occasional celebratory cigar, which most carriers define as less than one per month (or less than 12 per year). However, you’ll need to disclose how often you smoke cigars, and your nicotine screening will need to come back negative in order to qualify for nonsmoking rates.

How much more expensive is life insurance for smokers?

Smoker or tobacco rates can cost up to 2 to 3 times more than nonsmoker rates. Take a look at the tables below to see sample quotes for a man in California at three different ages 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:

AgePreferred nonsmokerPreferred smokerPercent increase
30$28.58$83.19191%
40$41.00$147.13259%
50$95.07$353.91272%

Sample Standard rates, nonsmoker vs. smoker:

AgeStandard nonsmokerStandard smokerPercent increase
30$39.95$103.44159%
40$65.49$191.83193%
50$146.76$462.06215%

Sample quotes based on policies offered by Policygenius in 2020

Each insurer weighs smoking habits differently when setting premiums, so if you currently smoke or use other nicotine products, it’s important to get quotes from a range of different insurance companies to find the best rates. You can easily compare rates using our free quote tool below:

Nicotine and the life insurance medical exam

When you apply for a life insurance policy, you’ll be asked if you smoke during the underwriting process and will have to take a nicotine test during your medical exam. If you test positive, you’ll be classified as a smoker.

Keep in mind that nicotine will last in your blood and urine for up to three days, but cotinine — a byproduct of your body metabolizing nicotine — can last for longer than a week. The life insurance medical exam will test for both nicotine and cotinine to determine whether you’ve smoked or used other nicotine products. When it comes to a urine test, it can take almost a month to get all signs of smoking out of your system.

Learn more about nicotine and the life insurance medical exam.

Why you shouldn’t lie about your nicotine use

If you lie about your nicotine use, somehow 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.

That’s because the first two years after your policy goes in force are known as the contestability period. If you die during that period, the insurance company has the right to go back through all your medical records and application materials again.

If they suspect that you lied about something on your application that affects their ability to insure you — for example, saying you don’t smoke when you actually do — they can cancel your policy. And in the event of your death, the best-case scenario is delaying the payment of the death benefit while they investigate, and the worst-case scenario is not paying out at all if your death is deemed tobacco-related.

Learn more about the life insurance contestability period.

How former smokers can get nonsmoker rates on life insurance

If you want nonsmoking rates on life insurance, you need to stop using tobacco — for good.

While quitting cold turkey right before your application might be good for your health, it won’t help you get better rates immediately. Nonsmoker rates typically won’t be available to former smokers for the first year after quitting, and you usually won’t be eligible for the best ratings (Preferred or Preferred Plus) until two to five years after you’ve quit.

That said, there are some insurers that treat a history of smoking more leniently in the underwriting process than others, so it’s important to shop around for different quotes.

Best insurance companies for former smokers

Here’s how our underwriting experts rank the best life insurance companies for former smokers in terms of the rates they offer and how flexible they are in working with applicants who are former smokers:

Life insurance companyRanking
Lincoln FinancialExcellent
PrudentialExcellent
Banner LifeExcellent
AIGGood
Pacific LifeFair
Mutual of OmahaFair
ProtectiveFair
SBLIFair
TransamericaFair

An independent broker like Policygenius can help you find the right policy for your age, lifestyle, and health history, including past nicotine use. Brokers work with multiple insurers to help shoppers compare a range of different options.

Should you wait to apply for life insurance if you recently quit smoking?

If you’re in the midst of kicking a smoking habit, it’s very possible that in a year from now, you’ll be completely nicotine-free and will qualify for lower nonsmoking life insurance rates.

But keep in mind that it often takes people several tries to give up smoking for good, and on average, life insurance rates increase 8–10% for each year that you delay applying. That means that putting off buying life insurance for too long could cost you.

Because life insurance is an important part of a comprehensive financial plan for anyone with dependents, it doesn’t hurt to compare quotes now or look into annual renewable life insurance so you have some coverage while you’re in the process of quitting.

And if you initially purchase life insurance at smoker rates but successfully quit later down the line, you can always ask your insurance company for a rate reconsideration or apply for new policies once you’ve been nicotine-free for at least one year.