When you apply for life insurance, you certify that you have given correct and honest answers to their health questionnaires. Since these questions invariably ask about whether or not you are a smoker (or user of nicotine products), your policy benefits could get voided if they discover you were dishonest or misrepresented the truth.
While you won’t be outright denied life insurance simply because you smoke, you do bring on higher premiums as a result of the habit. That’s one reason that some applicants choose to deceive life insurance companies about smoking, and it’s also a reason that insurance companies can ultimately keep death benefits from your beneficiaries.
There are several ways to be considered a smoker as well as a nonsmoker (if you quit), so read on to discover what you need to tell your insurance company to get the right rate on your term or whole life insurance.
Why Smoking Matters for Insurance
Life insurance rates are calculated by looking at the risk of early death from a statistical point of view. That means that life expectancy is the basic measure of what your life insurance premium will be. When an insurer sees that you smoke, there are mountains of evidence that say you are more likely to get sick and die younger.
Because of the higher rate of mortality and the likelihood that you’ll pay fewer premiums before you pass away than a nonsmoker, insurance companies view this as a great risk to them in insuring you. Even though smoking is at an all-time low according to US health authorities, many millions of Americans already have a smoking-caused illness.
Smoking matters to insurance companies because it presents significant risk to them just as it presents a serious risk to your health. More than that, you could be categorized as a smoker even if you do not use traditional smoking products like cigarettes. There are actually many more ways to run into higher premiums because of the health concern.
What Counts as Smoking: Gum, Cigars, Cigarettes, and More
Nicotine can get delivered to the body in several ways, and insurance companies often consider many of these as legitimate ways to characterize a policy applicant as a smoker. Sometimes they refer to this category as a smoker, nicotine user, tobacco user, or a user of a nicotine delivery system (to be most general).
Some of the products they may include in the smoking- and nicotine-related category are pretty exhaustive and evolve as tobacco products aimed at delivering nicotine enter the market:
- Electronic Cigarettes
- Nicotine Patches
- Nasal Sprays
If you do use alternative nicotine products such as smokeless tobacco or cigars, some insurance companies will still offer Non-Smoker rates. It is important to reach out to an advisor so that they can help you get the best possible pricing.
How Smoking Can Affect Your Death Benefits and Premiums
Very simply, if you don’t smoke, you’ll pay lower premiums. Even for those who opt for term life insurance (that covers them for a set period) rather than whole life insurance (that covers them permanently)—you’ll pay more as a smoker. The difference is dramatic considering it is an almost invisible difference between applicants. It’s one of the strongest health factors affecting premiums.
Even if the applicant is a young female, she will pay much more in premiums despite an otherwise clean bill of health and risk profile according to the insurer. Life insurers take smoking very seriously: someone who gets a term life policy for 20 years with a $500,000 death benefit will sometimes pay 5 times as much as someone who merely doesn’t smoke.
Despite age, gender, and relative health, smoking and nicotine use lead to some of the highest insurance rates. Those who smoke have the burden of intensely high premiums compared to people who have quit for many years and those who have never smoked.
Consider these inflated rates for male and female smokers of various ages on different term life insurance plans:
|Gender||Term||Age 30||Age 40||Age 50||Age 60|
How Long to Quit Smoking for Insurers
It’s a great step forward for your health if you decide to quit smoking. Whether you quit for a week, a month, or swear off cigarettes forever, your health will improve and you may hope to qualify for better life insurance rates on higher premiums. But, in the eyes of a life insurance company, they could still consider you a smoker for a time.
In order to qualify as a nonsmoker who gets much better premiums than their counterparts, you’ll have to have quit smoking for at least 12 months with a typical policy and application requirement. This is true for most companies, but some approach the habit differently with several categories that define someone’s risk and rate.
For example, some companies have different classes that let those who have quit smoking for longer periods get lower insurance premiums. If you quit smoking for an impressive five years, you could be in a much different risk and health category than someone who has quit for 12 months. But, many don’t just count cigarettes; they also look at products that help people quit smoking like nicotine gum, sprays, patches, and e-devices.
Not every insurer has the same rules and expectations, so you should look into each insurer’s definition of a nonsmoker before you get too excited about finally qualifying for better premiums and benefits after the huge accomplishment of saying goodbye to cigarettes and nicotine.
Lying about Smoking on a Life Insurance Application
It seems like you run little risk of getting caught smoking by an insurance company, but the consequences are steep. You could end up paying for the policy only to find that when the insurance company discovers you should be in a smoker category, your entire policy is cancelled if your policy is still within the contestability period. Then, your family will only receive a limited benefit at best.
Since insurance companies ask directly about whether you use nicotine or smoke on your insurance application, they expect the truth and nothing but the truth. That’s because they want a clear and fair picture of your health so that they can minimize risk and make sure they stand not to lose money insuring you for a rate that’s too low. They also know that, historically, smoking is misrepresented on life insurance applications according to the Tort & Insurance Law Journal.
When you agree to the insurance contract, you basically swear that you have given them that full description of your health and lifestyle. They can even ask if you’ve smoked in the last twelve months and ask you how much you smoke each day, week, or year (and something they can check using blood tests too). Without honest answers to these questions, the possibility that your policy could be cancelled within the contestability period grows larger.
What Doctors Tell Your Insurance Company about Your Health
Beyond expecting you to tell them the truth about your smoking, insurance companies also have access to medical data and often require medical exams. Since nicotine appears in your system for days, it will be immediately clear to them if you smoke, chew, vape, or use patches, making it even more important to be consistent with your answers to health screening questions used in underwriting according to PLOS ONE.
If You Start Smoking after Getting a Life Insurance Policy
When someone starts smoking after they already have a life insurance policy, it isn’t required to inform your insurer, but it could have consequences if you don’t. If a policyholder picks up smoking after the policy starts and dies during the contestability period of a term or whole life policy of a smoking-related illness, it could compromise death benefits when it looks like fraud.
In some cases, benefits could be kept from beneficiaries because the insurance company can’t tell whether you started smoking before or after the policy and for how long. However, it would be the insurance companies responsibility to prove that you lied, and they must do that within the allotted contestability period of the policy.
Get Life Insurance Quotes for Smokers
Smoking can be a lifelong habit, and while many people really want to quit, they need life insurance to protect their families just the same. For their spouses, children, and dependents, they seek the highest death benefits at the lowest cost despite the risk categories insurance companies put them in.
Because of this, smokers (and even nonsmokers) need to use the best insurance shopping practices to find the best premiums and plans. Sproutt offers a way to intelligently compare leading insurer quotes so that you can choose the ideal policy for you whether it’s a term plan or permanent policy.
Find an insurer that’s compassionate about your health. Get the best rate with Sproutt.