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Smoking is a deadly habit that can cause heart and lung disease. It also can lead to much higher life insurance premiums.

Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans annually. Nearly 10% of those deaths are related to secondhand smoke.

Close to one-fifth of men and nearly 14% of women smoke. That includes 13% of Americans 18-24 and 18 percent of people 25-64. About one-quarter of people living in poverty smoke cigarettes.

Beyond the health impact, smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products causes higher life insurance rates. It likely won’t prevent you from getting a policy, but you’ll feel it in your wallet.

The good news is that being listed as a smoker isn’t a lifelong classification. An insurer can re-classify you as a nonsmoker later if you’re able to kick the habit for good. 

This page will look at how smoking affects life insurance. We’ll go over who’s considered a smoker, what to do if you quit smoking and different life insurance policies that cover smokers. We’ll also look at vaping and marijuana use.

Smoking and life insurance

Life insurers classify people into risk pools. The higher the risk, the higher the premiums.

They do this by gauging your overall health and lifestyle. That includes whether you smoke and how often.

When you apply for a policy, an insurer takes blood and urine tests and requests a medical exam to gauge your risk. The tests look for health problems, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease and sexually-transmitted diseases.

These tests also gauge your nicotine level. Nicotine is generally in a person’s bloodstream for three days. However, cotinine, which is a byproduct of nicotine, stays longer. A urine test may find proof of smoking weeks after tobacco use. You also need to answers questions about smoking and tobacco use. For instance, the insurer typically asks, “Have you used a tobacco product in the last 12 months?”

You additionally have to answer how often you use tobacco products. If you lie on your application and nicotine is located in your system, you’ll have to pay a higher, smoker rate.

No matter whether you smoke one cigarette a day or a pack, an insurance company will consider you a smoker. However, saying you smoke a pack a day could result in higher rates than a more casual smoker.

Plus, an insurer may ask if you used tobacco years ago.

Life insurance smoking policies differ

How a policy treats smokers depends on the insurer.

One insurer may require you to not use tobacco for at least five years in order to get the best rates. Another might only require no tobacco for three years. Others may be OK with an occasional cigar. Yet another might give you a better rate if you're using the patch or a similar product to stop smoking.

As you can see, there are wide variations depending on the policy and insurer. For that reason, it’s wise to shop around and find the best policy for you and your situation.

How much does term life insurance cost for smokers?

Smoking increases your rates, especially if you're older. A 30-year-old smoker may pay twice the amount of a nonsmoker. A 40- or 50-year-old person may pay even more. 
Here are the average annual premiums for term life death benefits of $250,000 for people classified as "Regular" health. 

Average Annual Premiums for Term Life death benefit of $250,000

Health profile and term lengthAge 30Age 40Age 50Age 60
Female smoker 10-year term$439$691$1,485$3,083
Female smoker 20-year term$668$1,184$2,383$5,216
Female smoker 30-year term$911$1,647$3,682$13,030*
Male smoker 10-year term$553$864$1,966$4,416
Male smoker 20-year term$824$1,486$3,167$7,087
Male smoker 30-year term$1,167$2,146$4,491$13,030*

*Limited quotes available. Data source: Compulife Quotation System as of January 2021.

Vaping and life insurance

Vaping and e-cigarettes have become more popular over the past decade for both cigarette smokers and nonsmokers. They’ve reached the teen population. More than 10% of high school students use vaping products. This trend has raised health alarm bells.

E-cigarette brand JUUL is popular with young people and has more than two-thirds of the e-cigarette market. Vaping contains glycerin, propylene glycol, water, flavoring, and normally nicotine.

Most insurers will consider vapers a smoker because of the nicotine in the product. Insurers usually don’t consider e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool even if you’re using it for that purpose.

Vaping is still relatively new and insurers are trying to gauge how e-cigarettes compare to other tobacco products for risk. In the coming years, life insurers will likely reshape their policies as the effects of vaping become better known.

Marijuana and life insurance

Marijuana is legal in many states now. Medical marijuana is an option for people in two dozen states. 

Life insurers don’t agree on how to gauge a marijuana user’s risk. Some policies consider you a smoker.

If you need medical marijuana because of a medical condition, the insurer may also hold that against you since you might be considered a higher risk based on your health.

Other tobacco products and life insurance

An insurer often considers a nicotine user anyone who uses a product that delivers nicotine. That includes cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, a nicotine patch and nicotine gum.

However, some insurers aren’t as strict on certain types of tobacco. If you chew tobacco, for instance, you might get a nonsmoking rating, which means lower rates.  

Also, occasional cigar smokers can often find nonsmoker policies. As long as you keep it to a handful of cigars a year, you’re usually eligible for lower insurance premiums.

Secondhand smoke and life insurance

Secondhand smoke likely won’t show up on a life insurance test result. There usually isn’t enough airborne nicotine to absorb into your blood.

So, if you live with a smoker, you should still get nonsmoker rates. Of course, it’s still a good idea to avoid cigarette smoke for your health.

Life insurance rates for smokers

Life insurance rates for smokers can be more than double that of nonsmokers. That’s especially true for middle-aged people who smoke. A middle-aged smoker can pay quadruple the premiums as a nonsmoker.

The reason is that it all goes back to risk. Insurers view a middle-aged smoker as someone who’s smoked for decades, and likely won’t kick the habit. A 20-something who smokes hasn’t been at it as long. There’s a better shot that person may drop cigarettes.

What happens if you lie to a life insurer?

Life insurance policies typically require a medical exam. However, there are “no exam” policies like guaranteed-issue and simplified-issue.

Those policies allow you to skip answering questions on your application. This might be an avenue if you smoke, but understand that these have higher premiums.

Now, you might be tempted to say you don’t smoke, especially if you’re trying to kick the habit. That’s not a good idea.

Lying on your application can result in being charged with insurance fraud and losing your coverage if the life insurance company finds out.

Lying could also affect your survivors after your death. If you die from a smoking-related illness but claimed to be a nonsmoker, the life insurer may reject the claim and leave your survivors without a death benefit.

Quitting smoking and life insurance

You can get lower life insurance rates if you end your tobacco use and stay smoke-free for at least a year.

Kicking the habit isn’t easy. Researchers at the University of Toronto estimate that smokers often need 30 attempts to finally go a year without cigarettes.

If you quit for at least a year, you can notify your insurer and ask if you qualify for a lower nonsmoker rate. The insurer may request another medical exam to confirm that you no longer smoke.

You might think about delaying life insurance until after you quit smoking. That could be a problem. Kicking nicotine can be difficult. You need at least a year without smoking to get nonsmoker rates.

So, putting off life insurance because of your smoking habit may result in delaying life insurance for many years. Then, you’ll get hit with higher rates anyway because you’re older, and maybe you still haven’t kicked tobacco for good yet.

It’s better to get a life insurance policy, pay the higher rates at least temporarily, and work to stop smoking. If you’re successful, you can later notify your insurer and ask about getting nonsmoker rates.

Starting smoking and life insurance

What happens if you start smoking after you get a nonsmoker policy? It’s always a good idea to tell your life insurance company.

You’ll pay higher premiums if they have to classify you as a smoker. However, if the insurer thinks you’re a nonsmoker and then discovers after your death that you used tobacco, it could deny the death benefit.

This isn’t considered insurance fraud. You were honest when you filled out the application. However, you should still inform the insurer. If not, an insurer may deny your death benefit and your loved ones receive nothing.

What to do if you get declined?

Being a smoker means you’re a higher risk. This can result in an insurer declining your coverage.

Here’s what to do if you’re declined:

  • You get declined and you have no known health issue -- Check the result with the insurer. Ask the physician about the results. Mistakes can happen. Make sure you were correctly rejected.
  • You have a long-range health problem -- One insurer may reject you for an impending issue like pre-diabetes. One way to avoid this is to go with a no exam health policy. Simplified issue and guaranteed issue life insurance policies don’t require a medical exam. These are more costly than typical life insurance, but it’s an option if you get declined because of a medical exam. Another option is to work on your health issue. For instance, if you’re deemed obese, you could use the result as motivation to get in better shape before applying for life insurance again. If you want a plan mostly for final expense coverage, you could look into final expense insurance. This type of low-cost insurance is in place to guarantee your family has money to handle funeral expenses.
  • You have a chronic illness -- Having a chronic illness can make insurers run the other way. If you get declined because of an illness, explore guaranteed issue life insurance policies. These cost more, but if you have a serious chronic illness, it might be your best (or even only) bet. Final expenses insurance is another option, but those plans are limited.
  • You get declined for a permanent life plan -- Look into term life insurance. You’ll likely pay more because of your health status. That said, an insurer might be more open to insure you for a shorter-term policy because there’s less chance that it will have to pay a death benefit.

You can also check with your employer to see if it offers a group life insurance plan. These are connected to your employment, which means you lose coverage if you leave your job. A workplace policy may not provide great benefits, but it gives you a life insurance option.

How to shop for life insurance if you’re a smoker

It’s always wise to shop around for insurance, whether that’s life, home, auto or individual/nongroup health insurance. This is especially true with life insurance if you have a health concern or use tobacco.

Life insurance companies have their own underwriting. That means one company may find a certain health ailment more problematic than another. It also means one insurer may charge higher rates for smokers than another.

Before getting quotes, make sure to figure out what coverage you need. Add up your debts, including mortgage, car loans and credit card bills. Think about your child’s education and what kind of money is needed. Figure out how much your survivors will require for final expenses. A funeral can cost more than $10,000 easily.

Then, estimate how much your family will lose out financially if you were to die. How much do you make? Without that income, how will your family survive?

Add up those costs and figure out how much your family may need.

Make sure you shop around and get quotes from multiple life insurers to find out what life insurance is best for smokers and tobacco users.