The number of smokers has decreased in recent decades, but many Americans continue to use tobacco products in one form or another.
As a result, we frequently receive questions related to life insurance for smokers or the use of other forms of tobacco. Common consumer questions include…
Is life insurance for smokers more expensive?
If I quit smoking, can I qualify for non-smoker rates? Does smokeless tobacco count?
These and other similar questions are entirely understandable given the significantly increased premiums often paid by “tobacco users” and the varying underwriting standards among leading insurance companies.
The GOOD NEWS is that it is often possible to qualify for affordable life insurance as a tobacco user.
The following article, Life Insurance for Smokers and Tobacco Users (Including Insider Tips), provides information about life insurance for smokers, underwriting considerations, best insurance companies, and more related to high-risk life insurance.
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Life Insurance for Smokers and Tobacco Users
The use of cigarettes and other tobacco products has been deeply ingrained into American social culture. From early advertising to the Marlboro Man, tobacco products have become a mainstay in our society.
Though anti-smoking and health promotion initiatives in recent decades have significantly reduced the numbers, tobacco use remains high within certain demographic groups.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.”
Given the negative health considerations connected with smoking and the associated increased mortality, it is understandable that insurance companies consider smoking/tobacco status when evaluating an application for life insurance coverage.
Consumers who smoke and/or use other forms of tobacco can in most instances, expect to pay significantly more for their life insurance than non-smokers. Additionally, applicants with disease processes or medical conditions associated with tobacco use may be declined coverage all together.
Life insurance rates for smokers can easily be DOUBLE that of the rates charges to non-smokers.
However, in the majority of instances, it is possible for applicants to get affordable high-quality life insurance for smokers and tobacco users.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “cigarette smoking is down, but about 34 million adults still smoke.”
Life Insurance Underwriting Considerations for Smokers and Tobacco Users
In considering an application for life insurance, insurers routinely begin by determining the proposed insured’s age, sex, and tobacco status.
As part of the medical underwriting process, an applicant’s overall health status will traditionally be assessed.
Depending on the type of policy and underwriting requirements, a medical exam, health records, and other information may be required. An applicant’s tobacco status is considered a key component of this underwriting process based on the potential health and mortality considerations previously mentioned. Insurers routinely ask a series of tobacco-related questions that will be used to determine an applicant’s tobacco status as either a “tobacco user” or “non-tobacco user.”
Questions to Expect Related to Tobacco Use
The answers to these questions are used by the insurance company to identify an applicant’s “tobacco status" but can also be instrumental in getting the best rates possible as a tobacco user. As an example, all insurers consider cigarette smokers tobacco users but may classify an occasional cigar smoker or smokeless tobacco user as non-tobacco users. The following provides additional details related to different types of tobacco, as well as frequency and quantity of use.
Type of Tobacco Products Used
The type of tobacco products that an applicant currently uses, or has used in the past, can have a significant impact on assigned underwriting class and ultimately premium rates.
This is why it is extremely important to provide detailed information.
In many instances, there may be tobacco-related underwriting “niches” associated with specific life insurance companies. Provided below are common types of tobacco products used and their potential impact on the life insurance underwriting process.Given the lack of longitudinal research related to the health effects of electronic nicotine delivery, most life insurance companies take a negative underwriting stance. It is likely that as statistical data becomes available, an increasing number of companies will be willing to favorably consider electronic nicotine use.
Cigarettes are the most widely used form of tobacco. Cigarette smokers are classified by essentially all insurance companies as “tobacco users” regardless of frequency or quantity of use. This classification is based on negative health outcomes related directly to cigarette smoking.
A cigarette smoker who quits smoking will routinely have to wait at least 1 year to qualify for non-tobacco rates and 3 to 5 years to qualify for the preferred best rates depending on the insurance company.
Cigars are a commonly used form of tobacco, though much less popular than cigarettes. Cigar smokers may be classified as either “tobacco users” or “non-tobacco users” depending on the particular insurance company, as well as frequency and quantity of use.
As an example, some insurers will consider an applicant who smokes 1 cigar a week for preferred best non-tobacco rates.
Pipes are a less commonly used form of tobacco and tend to be similar to cigars in underwriting consideration. Pipe smokers may be classified as either “tobacco users” or “non-tobacco users” depending on the particular insurance company, as well as frequency and quantity of use.
As an example, some insurers will consider an applicant who smokes a pipe on a regular basis for non-tobacco rates.
Chewing tobacco, dip, and snuff are commonly used forms of smokeless tobacco and tend to be considered somewhat like cigars in life insurance underwriting. Smokeless tobacco users may be classified as either "tobacco users" or "non-tobacco users," depending on the particular insurance company.
As an example, some insurers will consider an applicant who uses smokeless tobacco on a regular basis for non-tobacco rates.
E-cigarettes, vaping, and other electronic nicotine delivery systems are tobacco substitutes that are rapidly growing in popularity. Considered a “safer” substitute than smoking tobacco, e-cigarettes are believed to have potential health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”
E-cigarette users may be classified as either “tobacco users” or “non-tobacco users,” depending on the particular insurance company.
As an example, select insurers will consider an applicant who uses e-cigarettes, vape, or other electronic delivery systems for non-tobacco rates.
Nicotine patches, gum, and other nicotine replacement products are extremely popular with individuals who are attempting to quit smoking. According to the American Cancer Society, “nicotine replacement therapy gives you nicotine, but not the other harmful chemicals in tobacco.” Nicotine replacement therapy users may be classified as either “tobacco users” or “non-tobacco users” depending on the particular insurance company.
As an example, some insurers will consider an applicant who uses nicotine replacement therapy for non-tobacco rates.
Life Insurance Rates for Smokers and Tobacco Users
In considering an application for life insurance, an insurance company evaluates the applicant’s age, gender, and tobacco use as part of the proposed insured’s overall health and lifestyle. This evaluation of potential risk allows the insurance company to assign a risk or “underwriting class” to the proposed insured.
An insured’s premium rates for a given policy are determined by their age, gender, and underwriting class, along with the amount and length of coverage. Being classified as a “tobacco user” can have a significant impact on the rates that an individual pays for life insurance. In fact, smokers often pay more than twice that of their non-smoker contemporaries for exactly the same policy. The following provides a sample comparison of life insurance rates for “tobacco users” versus “non-tobacco users.”
Sample Non-tobacco vs. Tobacco Rates
Note: Sample rates provided are based on rate information at the time of publication and are subject to change without notice. Company underwriting makes the final decision concerning rate class and/or policy approval.
Best Life Insurance Companies for Smokers and Tobacco Users
There are a number of top-rated life insurance companies that offer favorable underwriting and affordable rates for life insurance for smokers and tobacco users. In our experience, the following companies are recommended based on tobacco-related underwriting policies, financial ratings, product portfolio, policy service, and other factors. Recommendations are provided based on the type of tobacco products used.
Cigar & Pipe Smokers
Smokeless Tobacco Users
E-Cigarette & Vape Smokers
3 Tips to Getting the Best Life Insurance Rates for Smokers and Tobacco Users
Tip #1 - Work with an Independent Agent or Broker
In the insurance industry, an agent can either be “captive” (representing one company) or “independent” (able to represent multiple companies). In shopping for life insurance for smokers, it is important to work with an experienced independent agent having access to multiple insurers. This independence allows agents to recommend the companies and strategies that are most advantageous to YOU, the client.
As examples, an independent agent may recommend one company over another based on better tobacco rates, suggest a specific company that does not consider smokeless tobacco as tobacco use, or help an individual who has quit smoking qualify for a lower cost annually renewable term policy until they can be considered a “non-tobacco user.”
Tip #2 - Provide Accurate Information - "Tell The Truth"
In our experience, applicants sometimes “forget” that they occasionally smoke or use other forms of tobacco when completing a life insurance application, only to have the truth revealed in their exam results or medical information. Apart from being dishonest, this can actually be considered material misrepresentation and affect policy benefits.
It is important to provide accurate information related to tobacco use when initially speaking with an agent and completing your application for life insurance. Having accurate knowledge of any current and previous tobacco use will allow your agent or broker to provide accurate quotes and make appropriate recommendations. Ultimately, helping to hopefully get you APPROVED at the BEST RATES possible.
Tip #3 - Select the Right Life Insurance Company
As previously discussed, it is common for life insurance companies to have varying premium rates, as well as different underwriting standards related to tobacco use. These variations in tobacco guidelines can often make a significant difference in the cost of life insurance for smokers and tobacco users from one company to another.
Selecting the right insurance company means choosing the insurer that most favorably views your tobacco status and/or offers the best rates.
As an example, one insurer may offer the best rates for cigarette smokers, while another may not consider smoking cigars or using smokeless tobacco negatively.
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James Shiver, DBA is the founder of ChoiceLifeQuote.com and a multi-state licensed independent life insurance agent serving the individual family and small-business markets. Dr. Shiver also serves as a university business professor, as well as being an Accredited Financial Counselor®.