Nicotine and the life insurance medical exam

When and how your nicotine use can show up in your test results.

Logan Sachon

Logan Sachon

Published December 10, 2018

When you’re applying to life insurance, you’ll be asked if you smoke, and you shouldn’t lie about it. To keep people from lying, you’ll be subject to a nicotine test during your medical test. If you test positive, you’ll be classified as a smoker, and your rates will go up.

But what constitutes smoking, and what leads to nicotine and cotinine in your blood system?

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Why life insurance companies test for nicotine

Since smoking makes you riskier to insure, smokers pay more for life insurance premiums. Life insurers can’t risk insuring someone who may develop life-threatening health conditions due to smoking without charging them more.

When you buy life insurance, you have to take a medical exam, and that medical exam always tests not just for nicotine, but for cotinine — a byproduct of your body processing nicotine which stays in your blood even after the nicotine has left your system.

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, your policy could be canceled if you die from smoking-related lung cancer, for example.

If you said you were not a smoker and you do test positive for nicotine, you still may be offered a plan at smokers’ rates, but it’s also possible that you could be declined for lying.

How nicotine affects your life insurance rates

When a life insurer is determining how much your premiums will cost, they’ll look at things like your health history and use that to give you a health classification — and a premium rate.

In additional to the classifications, insurers have levels specifically for smokers. Say you’d normally be classified as Preferred; if you smoke, you’d be classified as Preferred Smoker as the insurer’s way of saying that although you otherwise fit the Preferred risk profile, there’s a likelihood that health issues will arise thanks to your habit. Smoker ratings can be two to four times higher than non-smoker ratings.

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 blood, 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 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.

Read more about the life insurance contestability period.

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How the life insurance nicotine screening works

Signs of nicotine will last in your blood for up to three 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.

Will secondhand smoke show up on your life insurance nicotine test?

According to the CDC, there are known health effects of secondhand smoke. But secondhand smoke from a family member or coworker is unlikely to show up on your nicotine screen.

While secondhand smoke certainly isn’t good for you, you won’t absorb the amount of nicotine as smokers or users of other tobacco products, and it won’t show up in your blood test.

If a nicotine test results in a positive, it’s because that person is a recent tobacco user.
There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to smoking and life insurance. But when it comes to secondhand smoke, there’s no need to worry. Someone else’s smoking habits won’t affect your ability to get affordable life insurance.

Will chewing tobacco show up on your life insurance nicotine test?

Chewing tobacco has a high amount of nicotine in it, so if you’re a regular or even occasional user, you certainly have nicotine in your blood.

Read more about chewing tobacco and life insurance.

Will nicotine gum or the nicotine patch show up on your life insurance nicotine test?

Smoking cessation products – things that help you quit, like nicotine patches or nicotine gum – have enough nicotine that they’ll show up on nicotine tests.

Even though smoking cessation products ostensibly help you quit smoking, they still fall under the category of tobacco use.

Some insurers are more lenient than others; Prudential, for instance, will give special consideration to smoking cessation products provided there isn’t any other cigarette use involved. MetLife, on the other hand, includes cigarette smoking and nicotine substitutes (e-cigs, nicotine patch, and other smoking cessation products) under the same guidelines and classifies users accordingly.

When you’re deciding on which insurer is best for you, review how they consider non-cigarette nicotine products. An independent broker from Policygenius can help you find the best life insurance for former smokers.

Can you quit smoking cold turkey and pass your life insurance nicotine test?

If you quit smoking cold turkey several weeks before your life insurance medical exam, there is a chance that your nicotine and cotinine screenings will come back negative.

But it’s essential that you’re honest about your habits and health when applying for life insurance. Even if your screen comes back clear, be honest about the day you quit smoking. If it’s recently, you won’t get nonsmoker rates, but by lying, you’re committing fraud, and could have your policy canceled, leaving your family unprotected.

How former smokers can get nonsmoker rates on life insurance

If you want nonsmoking rates, you need to stop using tobacco — for good. Once you’ve been nicotine-free for several years, you can either ask your insurance company for rate reconsideration, which would involve another drug test, or you could reapply for policies. Read more about how reconsideration and reapplication work.

An independent agent, like the insurance advisors at Policygenius, can help you get a policy that works for you. They won’t be beholden to a single carrier and will allow you to shop around and find some of those more lenient carriers we spoke about earlier.

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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.