8 Things to Know About Tobacco Use and Life Insurance

If you smoke or use any kind of tobacco products and you want to get the best life insurance rate possible, read these tips before you shop around.

smoker that wants to buy life insurance

If you use tobacco products and try to purchase life insurance, you'll probably pay more for your policy than someone who doesn't.

That said, this definitely is an area where it pays to shop around. This is because each insurer charges smokers different rates for life insurance policies.

"The general rule is you are considered tobacco-free if you haven’t touched the stuff in at least a year," says Steven Weisbart, Ph.D., CLU, senior vice president and chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute. "However, life insurer underwriters may differ on this, so if you meet that rule and don’t get offered standard rates, shop around."

That's where QuoteWizard can help. We can get you quotes from multiple companies so that you can compare rates for smokers. This is the best way to guarantee you're getting the best deal.

Read the rest of this article before you jump on the web, pick up your phone, or even hit the pavement, though. It touches on a number of the things you need to know if you use tobacco products but still want to protect your loved ones with life insurance.

Cigarettes Are Only One Part of the Equation

It's easy to assume that smoking cigarettes is the only thing that matters to the folks who set life-insurance premiums. In fact, many also frown upon the use of other tobacco products, too.

A few examples:

  • Cigars
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigs, e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems, or personal vaporizers)
  • Marijuana
  • Nicotine patches or gum

If you use any of the above, expect companies to charge you more for life insurance than they would if you didn't use those products.

That said, each insurer may charge different rates for tobacco use. That's why it's so important to shop around to get the best life insurance rates .

'Celebratory Cigars' Sometimes Are OK

Will an insurer consider you a tobacco user if you smoke a "celebratory cigar" a couple of times a year? That depends on the company, unfortunately.

The good news, though, is some insurers will still charge you the non-tobacco rate even if you enjoy a stogie now and then.

Just make sure you run that by your agent before you fill out any paperwork related to the life-insurance policy you're eyeing up. He or she will tell you whether or not your celebratory cigars will raise your premiums.

And if they do prompt a rate hike? Shop around and compare life insurance quotes from competing companies to see if one of them will offer you a lower rate for the same amount of coverage.

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What About Marijuana?

This is another habit you'll want to run by an agent before signing on any dotted lines.

That's because some life-insurance companies are cool with marijuana use, especially if it's related to a medical issue, while others are the complete opposite. Some may even deny you coverage if they find out you use the drug.

This all-over-the-map reaction probably stems from the fact that while a number of states have now legalized cannabis use--in both medical and recreational contexts--the federal government still sees it as a no-no.

Nicotine Patches and Gum Are Iffy, Too

Using nicotine patches or gum is OK in the eyes of your average insurer, right? Sometimes, but not always.

Why will nicotine gum or patches sometimes increase your life-insurance payments? One likely reason is that, like cigarettes and other tobacco products, these patches and gums deliver nicotine to the body. That’s a problem because nicotine, regardless of how it's ingested, may increase a person's risk of developing heart disease—a health impact that surely doesn't sit well with insurance providers.

Another likely reason is that the blood and urine tests insurance companies use in these situations check for the presence of nicotine or even cotinine, which indicates exposure to tobacco smoke. As such, it's nearly impossible for them to figure out if a person has nicotine or cotinine in their system due to cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or even nicotine patches or gum.

Time is of the Essence

Regardless of which tobacco or related product you may use, some providers are going to charge you more for life insurance if you admit to using any of them—and any amount of them--within a certain period of time. Often, that period of time is six months or one year, although some companies will require you to be tobacco- or nicotine- or marijuana-free for as long as five years before they'll give you a "non-smoker" rate.

Own Up to Your Usage

Despite what's said above, don't lie about your tobacco usage on your life-insurance application. Not only is doing so illegal, but it's likely the truth will come out when you take the nicotinetests—mentioned above—most companies require before they'll approve your application. (And the substances they search for can take days and even weeks to leave your system depending on how much you use a particular product and how long you've used it.)

In such cases, the best you can hope for is that the insurance company in question will raise your rates to be in line with what other tobacco users pay, while the flip side is that you'll be refused coverage, or worse.

A good example of what could happen should you find yourself in the middle of a worst-case scenario, according to Weisbart: "the insurer will deny the claim for death benefits, merely returning the premiums paid, asserting that the contract never existed because you misled them. Even if your survivors or beneficiaries prevail in a court challenge, they will have lost time and spent money to obtain the money."

Quit and You'll Be Rewarded—Eventually

Just because your life-insurance provider places you in the "smoker" or "tobacco user" risk class at first, that doesn't mean you're stuck there for eternity.

In many cases, if you quit, wait a year, and then agree to another medical exam or blood, saliva, or urine test, the company will re-evaluate your situation and consider lowering your premium payments. Find out how much less a non-smoker pays for life insurance.

It May Not Pay to Avoid the Medical Exam

Some providers sell life-insurance policies without requiring people to complete a medical exam or take a blood, saliva, or urine test. That probably sounds appealing if you use one or more of the tobacco and other products mentioned throughout this article. The fact is, though, that these plans tend to more expensive than the ones offered by companies that require medical exams.

Tobacco Use and Life Insurance FAQ

Q: Where can I find the lowest price quote online for life insurance if I use tobacco products?

A: Why at QuoteWizard of course!

Q: Why do insurance companies make smokers and other tobacco users pay more than people who don't use these products?

A: There are a number of reasons tobacco users pay higher rates for life insurance than people who don't use tobacco. The gist of all of them, though, is that people who smoke, especially, are more likely to die, and die at an earlier age, than people who don't. Because that means an insurer is more likely to have to pay out a benefit, and pay it out earlier than they'd have to for non-tobacco users, these policyholders usually have to pay higher premiums.

Q: Why did my life insurance come back "smoker" even though I don't smoke regularly?

A: There are a couple of possibilities here. One is that the blood, saliva, or urine test you probably were required to take before your application was approved detected either nicotine or cotinine in your system. If that's the case, and if you think the results of your nicotine test are faulty, bring it up with your agent and ask to be retested.

Another possibility is that, when filling out your application, you indicated you've used some sort of tobacco product in the last six or 12 months (or whatever length of time was mentioned on your form). Cigarettes aren't the only tobacco products many life-insurance companies frown upon; admitting to the use of cigars, chewing tobacco, marijuana, or even nicotine patches and gum sometimes can earn you the "smoker" rate.

Q: I currently pay the smoker's rate for life insurance. If I quit, how long do I have to wait before I can be re-evaluated and hopefully have my premiums reduced? Also, what can I expect to happen during this re-evaluation?

A: A lot depends on the company holding your insurance policy, unfortunately. Some companies require that you be tobacco-free for six months, while others require that you not use tobacco products for a full year or even longer. Plus, this period could be longer or shorter depending on which form of tobacco you use.

As for what to expect during your re-evaluation, that depends on the company, too. Still, most test blood, saliva, or urine to see if there's any evidence of nicotine or cotinine in your system before approving any sort of changes to your premium payments.

Q: Do life insurance companies randomly test for tobacco use?

A: No, but it's likely they will test your blood, urine, or saliva (via a mouth swab) before approving your application and those tests will detect nicotine—or, more likely, cotinine—in your system if you've smoked or used other tobacco products within a certain timeframe.

Q: How long does nicotine stay detectable in your system?

A: Most of the tests given to life-insurance applicants look for cotinine rather than nicotine, as the former is detectable in the system for a longer period of time than the former. As for how long cotinine can be detected in your system: that depends on the kind of tobacco product you use and the type of test administered.

For example, cotinine leaves the bodies of menthol-cigarette smokers more slowly than it does men and women who smoke non-menthol cigarettes. Also, urine tests are more sensitive than saliva and blood tests when it comes to detecting cotinine in your system.

At any rate, if you want to be reasonably sure nothing will show up in one of these exams, you should be tobacco-free for about a week before you’re tested.

Q: What does "preferred tobacco" mean in insurance terms?

A: When you apply for life insurance, the information you include on your application form is used to assign you to one of a handful of "risk classes." The most desirable risk class is "preferred best." That means you're in excellent health, you don't have a family history of health problems, and you don't participate in any high-risk activities or hobbies. Other risk classes include "preferred," "standard," and "sub-standard," as well as the one you mentioned here, "preferred tobacco." If you're included in the "preferred tobacco" class, by the way, it means you're healthy but you also smoke or use other tobacco products on occasion.

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