Life Insurance for Smokers & Tobacco Users

A woman using her mobile phone while smoking a vape.

Key Takeaways

  • As a current or former smoker or tobacco user, you may have different life insurance policy options available to you, including term life, whole life and guaranteed issue life insurance.
  • Smoking and tobacco use are considered major health risks and lower one’s life expectancy, resulting in higher life insurance premiums.
  • A variety of different substances — ranging from cigarettes and cigars to hookahs and vapes to chewing tobacco and nicotine gum — can classify you as a smoker or tobacco user when applying for life insurance.
  • Lying about your smoking and tobacco use when applying for life insurance puts you at risk of being denied coverage and your beneficiary at risk of receiving a reduced death benefit or no death benefit at all.
  • If you quit smoking or discontinue your tobacco use, you may qualify for non-smoker insurance rates after a waiting period of one to two years.

Can Someone Who Smokes Get Life Insurance?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16 million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.1 Given these statistics, it’s clear that smokers and tobacco users take on a higher risk of developing major health problems and life-threatening illnesses than those who do not smoke or use tobacco products. Life insurance companies take these risks into consideration when evaluating the eligibility of smokers and tobacco users.

If you are a smoker or tobacco user, you can still qualify for life insurance. However, it is important to understand that you could pay a higher premium than a non-smoker as life insurance companies consider smoking and tobacco use a health risk that can lower your life expectancy. On the other hand, if you are thinking of quitting your smoking habit, you could expand your options and potentially lower your premiums over time.

Why Do Smokers Have Different Life Insurance Rates?

Life insurance rates are based on an insured person’s life expectancy. Factors that affect your potential mortality are part of the calculation of a life insurance quote. If you are a smoker or tobacco user, a life insurance company considers you at higher risk for a premature death — which means the insurer will likely need to pay out the death benefit to your beneficiary sooner than it would if you were a non-smoker. A higher risk and potential shorter life expectancy will generally result in higher premiums.

What is the best life insurance for a smoker?

Like everyone who is looking to buy life insurance, the best life insurance that’s right for you — as a smoker — will depend on a variety of factors, like whether you want permanent or temporary life insurance, how much coverage you need and the financial strength and ratings of the insurer you select. No medical exam life insurance may be an attractive choice for smokers, thinking it may be a more affordable option without the requirement of a medical exam, but it may or may not offer you a lower premium.

The best life insurance policy for a smoker is one that meets your family’s financial needs at a reasonable cost. So you will need to shop around — and remember that some policies may offer you the opportunity to request a lower premium rate after you have been nicotine-free for a certain length of time.

How Do Insurers Classify Smokers?

Cigarette smoking may be one of the most common classifications of smoking, but it is not the only one. When evaluating your application for life insurance, an insurer will be considering a number of different categories of smoking and tobacco use.

Some of the more obvious categories that would designate you as a smoker include smoking regular cigarettes, bidis (thin hand-rolled cigarettes originating from India), cigars and pipes. Using a hookah — a waterpipe that heats or vaporizes tobacco, flavored tobacco and marijuana for smoking — qualifies you as a smoker, as does the use of e-cigarettes and vapes. Using various types of tobacco, which include heated tobacco, chewing tobacco, dissolvable tobacco and snuff (a kind of smokeless tobacco made from finely ground tobacco leaves that is snorted or sniffed), also classifies you as a smoker.

Even the use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) — smoking cessation products designed to help you wean off of smoking and the use of tobacco and nicotine — will designate you as a smoker. These include gums, lozenges, patches, sprays and inhalers that put nicotine into your body.

Keep in mind that frequency of use of some of these products may be significant when an insurer is evaluating your application for life insurance. For example, occasional cigar smokers (say one or two cigars per month) might be classified as non-tobacco users. How companies factor in marijuana usage can vary, also. An insurer may base premium rates and eligibility for life insurance for a marijuana user on legality in one’s state of residence, having a medical marijuana card, the method and frequency of usage and other possible factors. Remember, however, that you must disclose marijuana usage — as well as any other smoking or tobacco use habit — on your life insurance application to avoid life insurance fraud.

How Do Insurance Companies Rate Smokers?

In order to determine your life insurance eligibility and provide you with a premium quote, an insurer first needs to assess your current health and lifestyle risks.

If you are a smoker or tobacco user, certain factors could impact your premium cost:

  • Frequency of Use — The more frequent your habit, the more expensive your premium could be. Infrequent cigar smoking, for example — like only four times a year — might even qualify you as a non-smoker.
  • Specific Type of Use — Depending on the insurance underwriting, some kinds of smoking and tobacco use may be more costly than others. Bidis have no linings or filters like most regular cigarettes, making bidis more physically harmful because your body absorbs more nicotine. Likewise, chewing nicotine gum may be considered less risky to your health than smoking a pipe.
  • Your Insurance Company — Different insurance companies may have variations in how they quote premiums for smokers and tobacco users, so it’s important to shop around for the most affordable policy.
  • Quitting — Don’t forget that kicking the habit entirely and being nicotine-free for a year or more may have a significant impact on lowering your life insurance premium.

How much do I have to smoke to be considered a smoker?

Remember that smoking and tobacco use include a wide variety of substances beyond ordinary cigarettes, including cigars, hookahs, chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes/vapes, marijuana and nicotine gums and patches. In general, many insurance companies will consider you to be a smoker if you have used a tobacco product at least four times a week during the last six months.3 However, keep in mind that individual insurance companies have their own definitions as to what constitutes a smoker.

Smoker vs. Non-smoker: Comparing Life Insurance Coverage

If you are a smoker or tobacco user, prepare yourself for higher insurance premiums, which often can be between two to four times higher than what a non-smoker would pay. Averaging the five lowest online quotes for healthy men and women of average height and weight, Forbes Advisor compared non-smoking versus smoking premiums for a 20-year, $500,000 term life insurance policy.2

Insured’s Age & Gender Non-Smoker’s Average Rate Smoker’s Average Rate Smoker’s Rate Increase
30-Year-Old MALE $303 $828 2.7 Times More
40-Year-Old MALE $397 $1,531 3.9 Times More
30-Year-Old FEMALE $281 $670 2.4 Times More
40-Year-Old FEMALE $344 $1,199 3.5 Times More

As you can see from these average rates, you could save a significant amount of money as a smoker or tobacco user if you purchase your policy when you are younger (and likely while you are healthier, too).

Applying for Life Insurance as a Smoker

The application process for life insurance for a smoker or tobacco user is very similar to what a non-smoker would experience. Both smokers and non-smokers answer the same kinds of questions on the life insurance application and then submit it to the insurer. At this point, your application will go through underwriting, during which time professional life insurance underwriters assess how much personal risk you pose to the insurer, whether you are eligible for coverage and the amount of coverage for which you qualify. Certain considerations are important to keep in mind as a smoker or tobacco user as you work your way through the application process.

How Do Life Insurance Companies Know If I Smoke?

You will be asked about your smoking and/or tobacco use on the life insurance application and insurance companies practice due diligence to verify your information and identify any discrepancies to ensure appropriate smoker or non-smoker classification. After completing the application, you will be required to provide additional documentation, such as your medical and prescription records, and most likely will be required to complete a life insurance medical exam 

During the life insurance application process, the insurance provider has a number of different ways to identify you as a smoker or tobacco user:

  • Testing of Body Fluids — As part of your medical exam, a health care professional will usually take samples of your blood, saliva and urine to identify substances present in your body that confirm whether you are a smoker or tobacco user. Analysis of these samples will indicate whether nicotine or cotinine (a nicotine byproduct) is found in your system. The blood test also should identify if it contains any THC, an indicator of marijuana use.
  • Medical Records — A review of your medical records is a regular part of the underwriting process and will most likely identify nicotine use.
  • Pharmaceutical Databases — A review of your past and current prescriptions may reveal your use of a smoking cessation drug.
  • Previous Insurance Applications — Comparing your earlier answers to questions on other life and health insurance applications could identify inconsistencies and flag you as nicotine user.
  • Social Media Sites — Insurers are now in the habit of reviewing social media sites for evidence of health and lifestyle risk factors, like a family photo showing you at a hookah lounge.
  • Your Voice — Your provider may be working with a third-party vendor like Verisk to review and analyze voice recordings to identify you as a smoker. 

What Happens If I Lie About Smoking?

The most important thing to do when completing your life insurance application is to be honest — be truthful with all your answers, including the ones that ask you about your smoking and tobacco use. Lying about your smoking or tobacco habits, or about anything on your application or during your life insurance medical exam with a doctor, is considered insurance fraud and can have serious consequences. These ramifications of dishonesty include:

  • Denial of Coverage — If your insurance provider discovers that you were dishonest on your application or during the medical exam, you may be denied coverage completely.
  • Additional Application Review for False Information — If you die during the contestability period of the policy (usually the first two years after issue), your insurance company has the right to review your application to identify any false information.
  • Forfeit or Reduction of Death Benefit — If your insurer determines that you lied about your personal information, your beneficiary may have to forfeit the entire death benefit or receive a lower payout.

So here is the bottom line: Do not lie about your smoking or tobacco use when applying for a life insurance policy because you put yourself at too great a risk.

What If I Quit Smoking or Am Trying to Quit?

If you want to get more affordable life insurance as a smoker or tobacco user, you need to completely quit your habit of smoking or using tobacco. In order to qualify for the best non-smoker premiums, you must be nicotine-free for at least one year (sometimes two, depending on the insurer). Until then, you still might want to consider buying a life insurance policy while waiting to obtain a non-smoker rate as during this period, your premium could increase as you get older. Also keep in mind that if you get diagnosed with a smoking-related illness during that time, your premium cost could increase even more or you could run the risk of being denied coverage completely.

Can I convert my existing life insurance policy if I quit smoking?

If you have an existing life insurance policy and have quit smoking, you can approach your current insurer for what is called a “rate reconsideration.” This process will most likely require you to undergo another medical exam to prove that your body is free of nicotine. Remember that to be classified as a non-smoker for your policy, you will most likely need to have stopped smoking or using tobacco for at least 12 months, maybe longer. If converting your existing policy isn’t possible, then you may want to consider searching for a different insurer and applying as a non-smoker for a brand new policy.

Best Types of Life Insurance for Smokers

Depending on your age, gender, health risk factors and general health condition, there are several life insurance choices available to smokers and tobacco users. Keep in mind that premium rates for smokers and tobacco users will generally run significantly higher than those for non-smokers.

Term life insurance offers you temporary life insurance coverage for a limited period of time, usually for 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. While it does not build cash value, term life insurance generally features more affordable premiums than whole life insurance. The death benefit is paid out to your beneficiary if you die within the term period of the policy. After the term period ends, there are no additional benefits or payouts.

Whole life insurance offers you permanent life insurance coverage that lasts for your entire lifetime, as long as you continue to pay your premiums. Some whole life policies build cash value (that grows on a tax-deferred basis), money you can withdraw or borrow against while you are alive. Whole life premiums remain fixed during your lifetime and do not increase as you get older. Because whole life policies guarantee a death benefit payout during your whole life (as long as premiums are paid), they tend to be a more expensive type of coverage.

Guaranteed issue life insurance may be offered as whole life, term life or universal life. Because guaranteed issue life insurance does not require you to complete a medical exam or health questionnaire, it is ideal for smokers or tobacco users or individuals with pre-existing conditions. However, premiums for this type of insurance generally run higher and coverage amounts are lower than traditional life insurance. In addition, many guaranteed issue life insurance policies involve a two- or three-year waiting period before the full death benefit is available for payout. If you are a smoker or tobacco user in overall good health, guaranteed issue life is typically more expensive than regular medically underwritten life insurance.

How Quitting Smoking Can Impact Life Insurance Rates

If you quit smoking, you may have the option to convert your current smoking status to that of a non-smoker with your existing life insurance policy, but many insurance companies have a required waiting period before you can be reclassified as a non-smoker. The usual waiting period is at least one year — sometimes two. However, once you pass the waiting period and remain a non-smoker, your premium rates could begin to decrease and approach non-smoker rates after a few years, depending on your insurer. Become familiar with the details of your policy regarding a future change in smoking habits and how quitting may affect your premiums down the road.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Smoking & Tobacco Use – Basic Information – Health Effects.
  2. Life Insurance For Smokers.
  3. Everything You Should Know About Life Insurance for Smokers.

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