More on Life Insurance
More on Life Insurance
When you apply for life insurance, you usually need to take a medical test during the underwriting process. This is like a standard physical: A technician will get your base health readings and administer a blood test and urine test. They’ll use the blood and urine samples in part to check for drug use, including nicotine.
Chewing tobacco can appear on a nicotine test almost a month after your most recent use, depending on how your body metabolizes it, and will raise flags for your insurer. Because of the health risks associated with tobacco use, your insurer may classify you as a smoker and raise your monthly or annual life insurance premium even if you are otherwise in good health. As a tobacco user you could pay between two and four times more for your policy than a nonsmoker. However, some insurers are more flexible if you don’t smoke tobacco or if you quit more than a year ago.
Nicotine or cotinine can show up on a drug test for almost a month after your most recent use of chewing tobacco
Most life insurers categorize smokeless tobacco users as smokers and charge them more for a policy
Former chewing tobacco users may need to abstain for a year or more before an insurer will offer them nonsmoker premiums
If you’re a user of any kind of tobacco product — cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, or even smoking cessation products that contain nicotine — you may know that life insurance companies split their health categories into two major groups: smoker and nonsmoker. Some life insurance companies may be more lenient and categorize you as a nonsmoker if you are only an occasional user of tobacco products (i.e., a celebratory cigar every six months), but every insurer will ask how frequently you use tobacco products and which products you use.
Chewing tobacco will show up on a life insurance drug test. Life insurance companies test for nicotine and cotinine (what nicotine metabolizes into in the body) to determine whether you should receive a smoker classification. Chewing tobacco contains a high amount of nicotine — "holding an average-size dip in your mouth for 30 minutes gives you as much nicotine as smoking three cigarettes," according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. If chewing tobacco use appears on your drug test, you’ll be categorized as a smoker and charged accordingly.
Being categorized as a smoker doesn't mean the rest of your medical profile is ignored. Just like nonsmokers, insurers apply multiple health classifications to smokers that will affect your final premiums. You'll still end up paying more because you're a tobacco user, but your policy could still be affordable if you have no other health issues or risky hobbies.
Sample monthly premiums for a $500,000/20-year policy, smoker vs nonsmoker classification
|Age||Monthly premium (Smoker)||Monthly premium (Nonsmoker)|
Sample premiums based on Preferred Tobacco and Preferred health ratings for a 20-year term life insurance policy; quotes based on policies offered by Policygenius in 2020.
It’s important to be honest about your tobacco habits, even if it means paying more for your insurance. The medical exam can reveal if you lied about your use, and even if you manage to get a false nonsmoker classification, your insurer can cancel your policy or deny to pay out the death benefit if they discover any misrepresentations after the fact.
(Note: If you use marijuana instead of tobacco, you may be able to avoid a smoker classification altogether. Insurers view cannabis differently than tobacco, depending on your frequency and method of use.)
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Like many factors in life insurance, every provider has its own way of evaluating the risks of insuring a tobacco user. Whether smokeless tobacco products classify you as a smoker depends on the individual insurance company. One may be fine with limited cigar use as long as you don’t use chewing tobacco; another might consider a Standard Nonsmoker rating if you use chewing tobacco or smoking cessation products.
Most insurers will give you a smoker classification if you’ve used chewing tobacco in the last 12 months, but a few are more lenient as long as you’re not a cigarette smoker as well. At Lincoln Financial, chewing tobacco users are eligible for a Standard Nonsmoker rating, and at Prudential you may receive up to a Standard Plus Nonsmoker classification. Remember that your overall health will influence your final premium in addition to your smoker or nonsmoker status.
With insurers that include chewing tobacco in their definition of nicotine use, you won’t be eligible for nonsmoker premiums until you quit for good. As with most lifestyle changes, providers want to see that you’ve been nicotine-free for a sustained period before they’ll consider assigning you a nonsmoker health classification.
After you’ve been tobacco-free for 12 months or more you can apply for reconsideration or start shopping for a replacement policy. Do your research to find a life insurance company with friendly policies for former tobacco users.
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If you use chewing tobacco and you want to buy life insurance, your best bet is to disclose your use and work with an independent agent or broker. An independent broker like Policygenius can help you compare a variety of life insurance quotes and help you find the cheapest policy for your specific medical profile. It’s possible that you’ll pay higher premiums for your policy than a nonsmoker, but the consequences of hiding your tobacco use will cost you more in the end.
The contestability period in most life insurance policies means your provider can rescind your policy in the first two years if they believe that fraud was committed during the application process. That includes not being fully forthright about using chewing tobacco or how often you use it.
While it’s rare that life insurance companies investigate claims or deny benefits, it does happen. The best advice is to play it safe, otherwise, you risk leaving your loved ones without the financial protection of a death benefit when you’re gone. If your goal is to have a more affordable policy, then compare quotes with an insurer that’s friendlier to chewing tobacco use or consider quitting permanently.
Colin Lalley is the Associate Director of SEO Content at Policygenius in New York City. His writing on insurance and personal finance has appeared on Betterment, Inc, Credit Sesame, and the Council for Disability Awareness.
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.
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