8 Things to Know About Tobacco Use and Life Insurance

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

tobacco user that wants to buy life insurance

If you use tobacco products and 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 or pick up your phone, though. It explains many of the things you need to know if you use tobacco products but want life insurance.

Cigarettes Are Only One Part of the Equation

You might think 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 these tobacco products, expect to pay more for life insurance than if you didn't.

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.

But there's good news. Some insurers will charge you the non-smoking rate even if you enjoy a stogie now and then.

Just make sure you run that by your agent before you apply for a life insurance policy. They will tell you whether or not your celebratory cigars will raise your premiums.

And if they do prompt a rate hike? Shop around. Compare life insurance plans from competing companies. See if one of them will offer you a better price 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.

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

The reason may be that while some states have legalized cannabis, it's a federal crime to use it.

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 reason is that, like cigarettes and other tobacco products, these patches and gums deliver nicotine to the body. That’s a problem because nicotine increases a person's risk of developing heart disease. And that doesn't sit well with life insurance providers.

Another reason is that the blood and urine tests insurance companies use check for the presence of nicotine and cotinine. Cotinine indicates exposure to tobacco smoke. But it's hard for them to figure out how the nicotine or cotinine in their system. It could be due to cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or even nicotine patches or gum.

Time is of the Essence

No matter which tobacco product you use, some providers will charge you more for life insurance if you admit it. That period of time is usually six months or one year. Some companies require you to be tobacco free for up to five years to consider you a "non-smoker."

Own Up to Your Usage

Despite what's said above, don't lie about your tobacco usage on your life insurance application. It's illegal to do so. But the truth will come out when you take the nicotine tests most companies require before approving applications. And the substances they search for can take days and even weeks to leave your system.

Then best you can hope for in this situation is that the insurance company in question will raise your rates. They'd probably raise them to be in line with what other tobacco users pay. But you could also be refused coverage, or worse.

Here's 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 win a court challenge, they will have spent money to obtain the money."

Quit and You'll Be Rewarded—Eventually

If your life insurance provider puts you in the "smoker" or "tobacco user" risk class doesn't mean it's permanent.

If you quit, wait a year, and then agree to retesting, the company will re-evaluate your situation. They could end up reducing 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 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 in this article. But these plans tend to be more expensive than those 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. But the key reason is smokers are more likely to die, and die at an earlier age, than non-smokers. That means an insurer will probably have to pay out a benefit earlier than they'd have to for non-tobacco users. So these smoking policyholders often 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 the test you took before your application was approved detected either nicotine or cotinine in your system. If that's the case, but you don't smoke or use tobacco, ask to be retested.

It's also possible that you said you used tobacco products within the last six to twelve months when you applied. Cigarettes aren't the only tobacco products life insurance companies frown upon. If you admit to the use of any of the following, you could earn the "smoker" rate:

  • Cigars
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Marijuana
  • nicotine patches and gum

Q: I currently pay the smoker's rate for life insurance. If I quit, how long does it take before I can be re-tested and 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. But 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. Most test blood, saliva, or urine for evidence of nicotine or cotinine in your system before changing your premium.

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 in your system if you've smoked or used other tobacco products recently. These test will also detect any cotinine in your system.

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

A: Most of the life insurance tests look for cotinine rather than nicotine. That's because 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 two things. One is the the kind of tobacco product you use. The other is the type of test you take.

For example, cotinine leaves the bodies of menthol cigarette smokers slower than it does people 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.

But don't use tobacco for a week before testing if you want to be sure it's out of your system.

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

A: What you say on your life insurance application form assigns you to one of a handful of "risk classes." The most desirable risk class is "preferred best." That means you're in excellent health and don't have a family history of health problems. It also means 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 it means you're healthy but on occasion smoke or use tobacco products.

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