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The best life insurance companies for smokers in 2020

Smokers pay at least two times more for life insurance than nonsmokers. Find out the costs, how insurers test for nicotine, and how to get nonsmoker premiums if you quit.

Amanda Shih author photoJennifer Pan

Amanda Shih & Jennifer Pan

Published August 28, 2020


  • If you regularly use nicotine products, you’ll pay two to three times more for life insurance than nonsmokers

  • Insurers will test for nicotine during the underwriting process

  • Most insurers will treat you as a smoker if you vape, chew tobacco, or smoke marijuana daily

  • Former smokers may be eligible for nonsmoking rates a year or more after quitting all nicotine

If you smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco, or even use e-cigarettes, you’ll probably pay more for life insurance than you would otherwise. That’s because life insurance companies set your insurance premiums by evaluating your health and lifestyle for risk, and nicotine use comes with known negative side effects.

Generally, people who smoke or regularly use other nicotine products can expect to pay two to three times more for life insurance than nonsmokers. Insurers will evaluate your tobacco use with a nicotine test, and even after you quit you’re unlikely to be treated as a nonsmoker until you’ve been nicotine-free for at least a year. Still, it’s important to be honest about your smoking since you can jeopardize your coverage otherwise.

The best life insurance companies for smokers

Life insurance companies consider you a smoker for almost any nicotine use. Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vapes usually fall under the umbrella, though a few insurers are lenient about tobacco-free e-cig cartridges. Nicotine testing picks up smoking cessation products like nicotine patches and gum, too. Even though these are meant to help you quit, some companies will still count them against you.

There’s more variability for cannabis users who don’t smoke marijuana every day. Many life insurers will be more flexible depending on how often you partake. Most providers are very lenient toward occasional cigar use, usually defined as less than one cigar per month (or less than 12 per year), though most will want your nicotine screening to come back negative before they offer you nonsmoker premiums.

Since most major insurers label you a smoker for any cigarette use in the last 12 months, the table below ranks life insurance companies based on their flexibility toward non-cigarette tobacco products. Excellent companies are more likely to offer nonsmoker rates for all of the products above, Good companies may be lenient toward some non-cigarette products, and Fair companies will likely offer nonsmoking rates only to occasional cigar users.

Mutual of OmahaGood
Banner LifeFair
Pacific LifeFair

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How much more expensive is life insurance for smokers?

Smoker or tobacco 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 in California 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 Monthly premium (Nonsmoker)Monthly premium (Smoker)

Sample Standard rates, nonsmoker vs. smoker:

Age Monthly premium (Nonsmoker)Monthly premium (Smoker)

Sample quotes based on policies offered by Policygenius in 2020

How smoking and nicotine use affect your life insurance rates

When you apply for life insurance, your insurance provider will assess your health and lifestyle during underwriting and assign you a health classification based on their assessed risk of insuring you, which in turn will determine your monthly or annual premiums. The four main health classifications are Preferred Plus, Preferred, Standard Plus, and Standard. It’s possible to receive a Substandard rating, also called a table rating, if your medical profile has more risk factors. The healthiest Preferred Plus applicants receive the most affordable premiums, with premium prices increasing with each lower health classification.

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 testing can show signs of smoking almost a month 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.

Because smoking and tobacco use is extremely common and comes with proven long-term health risks, insurers also divide applicants into two broader categories: smoker (or tobacco) and non-smoker (or non-tobacco). Even if you’re otherwise very healthy, receiving a Preferred Smoker classification will increase your premiums significantly compared to someone designated as a Preferred Nonsmoker.

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 policy for you. An independent insurance broker can help you identify the best companies for your entire medical profile.


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How former smokers can get nonsmoker rates on life insurance

Unfortunately there’s no partial credit for reducing your nicotine use. If you want nonsmoking rates from a life insurer, you need to stop using tobacco for good.

While quitting cold turkey right before your application might seem like a good idea, it won’t help you get better premiums immediately. Nonsmoker premiums won’t be available to you for at least one year after you quit, and you usually won’t be eligible for Preferred or Preferred Plus ratings until two to five years after quitting.

That said, there are some insurers that treat a history of smoking 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. Brokers work with multiple insurers to help you compare a range of different options.

The best life insurance companies for former smokers

Here’s how our underwriting experts rank the best life insurance companies for former smokers. Excellent notes insurers where former smokers are eligible for the best health ratings within two years of quitting and Good reflects insurers who may offer standard health ratings within two years.

Mutual of OmahaExcellent
Banner LifeGood
Pacific LifeGood

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, you’ll be completely nicotine-free and will qualify for lower nonsmoking life insurance premiums. But, it often takes several tries to give up smoking for good, and on average, life insurance rates increase 8–10% for each year that you delay applying.

If you have dependents or loved ones who benefit from your support or would be left with expenses if you die, you should get a policy now. You can buy a term life policy and cancel your coverage without penalty after you’ve secured an affordable nonsmoker policy or ask your insurer for a rate reconsiderationonce 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 you renew.

Why you shouldn’t lie about your smoking

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. The first two years after your policy is in force are the contestability period. If you die during that period, the insurance company has the right to go through your medical records and application materials to look for intentional omissions or misrepresentations.

If they suspect that you lied about something on your application that affected their ability to insure you — for example, saying you don’t smoke when you actually do — they can cancel your policy. In the event of your death, the best-case scenario is delaying the payment of the death benefit to your loved ones while they investigate, and the worst-case scenario is reducing the payout or not paying out at all if they discover that you intentionally withheld information about your smoking habits.

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 fit. 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 die. If you give up nicotine entirely, you can begin to 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.

Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih

Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is an insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. Previously, she worked in nonfiction book publishing and freelance content marketing. Amanda has a B.A. in literature and communication from New York University.

Insurance Expert

Jennifer Pan

Insurance Expert

Jennifer Pan is an insurance editor at Policygenius. She covers life insurance, personal finance, and the economy. She previously worked in marketing and communications in the nonprofit sector and publishing.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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