How do life insurance companies classify you as a smoker and can it affect your coverage?

Putting down the smokes is not only better for your health, it can save you money when buying a policy.

When watching shows like Mad Men, lighting up a cigarette may seem glamorous and cool, but it’s pretty common knowledge that smoking is extremely bad for your health. So it’s no wonder when applying for life insurance one of the first questions people are asked is “do you smoke”? The reason behind it is life insurance companies look at age and overall health to determine how much coverage a buyer needs and what their monthly costs will be. Essentially, if you’re a smoker, companies understand that this unhealthy habit has an impact on your life expectancy. 

Some people have moved past cigarettes and have taken up other forms of oral fixations, like vaping or marijuana. The latter has recently been the subject of much debate, specifically due to track star Sha’Carri Richardson. Richardson failed a drug test by testing positive for THC, which disqualified her from participating in the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo. So it’s safe to say there are a lot of different ways to ingest smoke as well as who insurance companies view as smokers. If all this seems confusing fret not. We have some tips and resources to help you understand what qualifies as smoking, how to kick the craving or, at the very least, know your options.

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How do life insurance companies categorize smokers?

A lot of us strive to have healthy habits, from doing regular exercise to eating our fruits and veggies. But even if you follow a routine of clean eating and daily yoga, smoking might negate those patterns since it still puts you at higher risk for diseases like cancer and emphysema. Also, it’s just plain expensive since a pack of cigarettes averages at about $7 a box (and that’s on the low end). And then you have to add on higher life insurance plan costs. Talk about holy smokes.

You might be thinking “ok, but what if I smoke weed or enjoy an occasional cigar? Certainly it isn’t as bad as smoking a pack a day?” Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but as far as the insurance companies go, marijuana, vaping (and others) do qualify as smoking or ingesting tobacco and nicotine. 

Marijuana

As of April 2021, recreational cannabis use has been legalized in 17 states. How often you smoke marijuana can determine how high (or low) your premiums are. Sporadic use can still keep you in the low premium group, but this also depends on each individual company policy.

Historically, life insurance companies have been conservative on weed smokers but, as it becomes more and more legalized, they’re able to adjust rates that make sense for infrequent marijuana users. It’s also important to note they view medical marijuana use differently than recreational use. If it’s smoked to treat pain or another condition, they will ask for details to determine what kind of coverage they’d offer.

Vaping devices and electronic cigarettes

While you might think that vaping or using e-ciggies is better than smoking cigarettes, there is no conclusive evidence that they are better for your lungs. Plus, the metal and liquids inside the devices could also be potentially harmful to you. Without this info, most life insurance companies treat them as they would smoking in general ie: your premium cost would be much higher than a non-vape or e-cigarette user because of the risks associated with smokers. 

Cigars

Even though cigars do have nicotine and tobacco, most people smoke them occasionally which could be favorable for getting a good rate. Granted, occasionally can be very subjective like say, for instance, the occasion is sitting on your couch after a long day. That would then mean you are a daily smoker. If you really only celebrate with a cigar once in a blue moon, you probably wouldn’t get a higher rate. To this end, many insurers not only ask if you are a smoker, but the rate in which you light up. 

Also, things like nicotine gum, patches, pipes, chewing tobacco, and hookah all have to be reported when applying for insurance since they all contain nicotine and tobacco. 

Smoker vs non-smokers life insurance rates

When purchasing a plan, the premiums can double or even triple if you’re a smoker.  Companies can know your smoking status through direct questions and may also check anything from doctor and pharmacy records, past insurance applications, and even social media. Life insurance companies usually categorize smokers and non-smokers as:

  • Super preferred nonsmoker: healthy people who haven’t used a tobacco or nicotine product within the last three to five years.
  • Preferred nonsmoker: healthy people who haven’t used tobacco or nicotine within the last two years.
  • Standard nonsmoker: people of average health who don’t smoke cigarettes. 
  • Preferred smoker: cigarette smokers or people who have used tobacco or nicotine products within the last 12 months.
  • Standard smoker: frequent cigarette smokers in average health.
An infographic displaying how smoker status impacts life insurance premiums.

Consider quitting

Besides getting better rates with your life insurance plan, more importantly if you quit you are least likely to develop an illness. According to the CDC more than 16 millions Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking, so it’s important to have a game plan and figure out the best way for you to stop.

There are many online resources on ways to quit and also details on the full health benefits of doing so. Plus, there are a lot of alternative, and dare we say even fun ways, to start you on your journey—anything from workplaces challenges, mantras, and even some good old fashioned tough love. 

Ok you quit smoking. Now what?

Congratulations, you did it! Now it generally takes about 12 months for a life insurance company to consider you a non-smoker and give you a better rate, while best rates would be if you’re smoke-free for five years. You may need to take a urine test to confirm that there is no tobacco or nicotine in your system and re-do the paperwork that will lower your premium.

If you recently quit you would be in a transitional time in your life. Luckily there are short term life insurance plans you can buy that can cover you for less than five years. Once you’re deemed a non-smoker you’ll be able to buy term life insurance plans that come in 10, 15, 20 and 30 year increments.

If you’re still a smoker you should get life insurance. 

Don’t shy away from getting a plan because you haven’t quit. Even if rates are more expensive, it will still provide protection for your family. We now know more than ever life can change (and even end) in the blink of an eye. Having coverage is always going to be a good idea. Plus, seeing how expensive premiums are might give you even more motivation to quit. Then you can leave the smoking to Don Draper.

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