Life insurance policies provide financial security and help protect your beneficiaries’ futures after death. For smokers, the prospect of applying for life insurance can be more daunting.
Even if you're new to life insurance, you might know that your access to coverage and certain rates depends on your health risks. Life insurance providers see smokers as higher-risk policyholders, meaning insurers will offer less favorable terms to people in this group. Smokers can still apply for and receive life insurance policies, though. The best life insurance plans for smokers provide strong coverage at reasonable rates. Read on to learn more about life insurance for smokers, including how rates may vary and how the application process works.
Can you get life insurance if you smoke?
Yes, getting a life insurance policy is still possible if you smoke. However, smokers should expect to pay more for life insurance compared with non-smokers.
Life insurance for smokers
If you’re a smoker who is interested in life insurance, you should consider several factors, starting with the rates you’ll pay. Smoking affects your life expectancy, especially if you are a habitual smoker, so it’s no surprise that life insurance companies take smoking into account during the application process.
How smoking affects life insurance rates
The health risks associated with smoking make insuring smokers less appealing to insurance companies. To offset these additional risks, insurers charge higher life insurance rates for smokers compared with non-smokers.
However, whether a person smokes is not the only factor determining how much a person's life insurance premium is. Some smokers may pay less for life insurance than some non-smokers, depending on other factors such as individuals’ ages, genders, family medical histories and the types of life insurance policies they choose.
Life expectancy of smokers vs. non-smokers
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cigarette smoking causes around 20% of deaths in the United States annually. A smoker’s life expectancy is at least 10 years lower than the life expectancy of a non-smoker's.
Lung cancer is one of several deadly smoking-related diseases contributing to these figures. Other conditions include coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. These diseases are some of the health risks tobacco users deal with that motivate life insurance companies to charge them more.
Differentiating between occasional and regular smokers
Some people may not consider themselves smokers even if they occasionally smoke a cigarette or cigar. There are also other forms of tobacco use, such as chewing tobacco and dissolvable tobacco, that complicate the question of what counts as smoking or tobacco use.
No strict definitions determine whether a person is a regular or occasional smoker. Each insurance company sets its own definitions that determine who does and who doesn't fit in the category of “smoker.”
So, for example, what if you only smoke one cigar per year? Some insurance companies may consider you a smoker on that basis alone. Most insurance companies, however, will consider you a smoker if you have used a tobacco product at least four times per week for the last six months. Be sure to answer any questions about smoking and tobacco use as clearly and honestly as possible. It may be worth taking some time before you start the application process to think of the tobacco products you’ve used and the smoking you’ve done in recent years so you can easily and accurately provide that information.
The life insurance application process for smokers
Applying for life insurance as a smoker is largely the same as applying as a non-smoker. You answer all the same questions and fill out the application forms. Then, the insurance company reviews your application and decides whether to grant you a policy. However, there are some considerations about your smoking to keep in mind as you go through the process.
Disclosing smoking habits to the life insurance company
Insurance companies worry that smokers will not disclose their smoking habits during the application process. Insuring smokers who withhold their smoking habits puts the company at greater risk, so they’re highly incentivized to make sure no smokers end up labeled as non-smokers. If you fail to report your smoking habits accurately, you could face additional fees, or your death benefit could be reduced or denied when it comes time to pay out your family members.
In other words, it’s in a smoker’s best interest to be straightforward about their smoking use when applying for life insurance. Answer all the application questions about smoking and tobacco use honestly.
Required documentation and medical exams
After you complete the written or verbal section of the application process, you’ll still need to provide additional documentation and possibly undergo a medical exam.
You may have to provide additional documentation such as your credit history, driving record, medical records and prescription records. The insurance company will use these documents to verify all the information you provided on your application and look for any potential red flags.
The life insurance medical exam may sound intimidating, but it’s essentially a standard physical. The medical professional conducting your exam will record details such as your pulse, weight and height. They will also take blood and urine samples to test for nicotine use, among other conditions such as high blood sugar. Depending on your age and the life insurance policy you chose, you may have to have additional tests, including an EKG, treadmill stress test or cognitive ability test.
All this information will go to the insurance company to aid in its decision-making. Discrepancies between your written answers and exam results may stop the insurance company from issuing you a policy.
How smoking influences underwriting decisions
It’s common knowledge that smoking poses serious risks to a person’s health. This makes it a key factor insurance providers consider when issuing life insurance.
Life insurance providers would prefer to insure people who will live long, healthy lives because that’s more profitable for them. Smokers are more likely to die premature deaths. Smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer and COPD put them at greater financial risk.
The best way to offset this additional risk is to charge smokers higher premiums than their non-smoking peers.
Life insurance for smokers FAQs
Does smoking void a life insurance policy?
How does life insurance know if you smoke?
Many life insurance plans require the applicant to undergo a medical exam during the application process. Typically, the medical provider conducting the exam will take blood and urine samples, which will show whether you have cotinine in your body during the life insurance nicotine test. Since cotinine is a nicotine byproduct, it indicates that you have used nicotine products recently.
The medical exam isn't the only way insurance companies can find out whether you smoke. Insurance providers can also review your medical records in coded form through the Medical Information Bureau to check for nicotine use. They may be able to see your previous answers to life or health insurance application questions as well. Any discrepancies between your current and previous answers could be a red flag.
There's also social media to consider. Insurance companies can use any public photos of you smoking or doing other dangerous activities to make their decisions about granting you a policy. If you say you don't smoke and a picture on social media shows otherwise, you could have a problem.
Does smoking cigars affect life insurance rates?
Smoking typically refers to cigarette smoking, but cigar smoking can also make someone a smoker, according to some life insurance companies. Generally, the important factor when it comes to cigar smoking and life insurance rates is how often the person smokes cigars.
Someone who smokes cigars instead of cigarettes every day is still a smoker in the eyes of most insurance companies. Each insurance company has the ability to decide what makes someone a smoker or not. In most cases, you're considered a smoker if you use a tobacco product at least four times per week over the course of the past six months.
When comparing plans, make sure to read and understand the details so you know how your smoking will affect the policy. If your insurance company determines that your cigar smoking puts you in the "smoker" category, your rates will likely be higher than those in the "non-smoker" category.
Do I have to tell my life insurance if I start smoking?
Say you were a non-smoker when you applied for and received your life insurance policy. After completing the application process and getting your policy, you start smoking. What happens?
Even though life insurance rates for smokers are higher than rates for non-smokers, nothing will change if you start smoking after you have your policy. Your insurer cannot cancel your policy or raise your rates due to this change.
You can inform your insurance provider that you started smoking, but you don't have to. Unless it goes against the terms of your policy, what you do in your personal life after you purchase your plan is none of your insurer's business.
What happens if you lie about smoking on life insurance?
Lying about smoking on your life insurance applications is unwise. Smokers who want to avoid the higher premiums associated with smoking may be tempted to lie about their habits when applying for life insurance. However, this move is risky and unethical.
For life insurance plans that require a medical exam, the exam will easily uncover the lie. The insurance company will simply reject your application because your statement about not smoking does not align with the medical evidence that you do.
You can still encounter significant issues if your insurance company does not catch the lie during the application process. Specifically, your insurance company may later discover that you are a smoker and refuse to pay the benefits on your policy. The risks of lying about smoking on life insurance outweigh any perceived benefits.
What is the best life insurance for smokers?
Smokers should consider the same factors as anyone else while evaluating different life insurance plan options. To find the best life insurance options, you have to weigh metrics such as the costs of the policy, policy types and coverage, and online quote and application. In addition, you might want to take a look at customer satisfaction ratings and the financial strength of the insurer. For some people, whether or not a medical exam is required could be a consideration.
Some smokers look for life insurance plans that do not require a medical exam, hoping these plans will be more affordable. No-exam life insurance for smokers may or may not offer lower rates. The cheapest life insurance for smokers also may not be the best option for you and your family's needs.
The best life insurance plans for smokers offer solid coverage at reasonable rates. Some life insurance plans may even allow you to request a lower rate after you've passed a set milestone of being nicotine-free for a specific period of time.
Summary: Everything you should know about life insurance for smokers
Smoking affects many parts of your life, including your life insurance policy if you choose to purchase one. Smokers should plan on paying more for life insurance than their non-smoking counterparts, because of the increased health risks of smoking. Make sure to disclose your smoking during the application process to avoid the possibility that your insurance company will deny your beneficiary's claims after your death for providing false information.