I started Insurance Blog by Chris™ because I have a passion for insurance. Here at the blog, our job is to educate and inform people about the best insurance for them. Since then, we have grown into national brands with a large team of researchers helping people understand all forms of insurance.

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Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insu...

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Reviewed by Rachael Brennan
Licensed Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Mar 25, 2021

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There is no way around it. If you smoke you’ll pay more for life insurance vs non-smokers. Paying more for life insurance isn’t limited to cigarette smokers. Applicants who use tobacco products like chew tobacco, vape, and use recreational marijuana will also pay higher premiums.

Why? Insurance companies in general, especially those providing life insurance coverage, base their premiums on the level of risk you pose of getting into an accident or passing away. 

Smoking places you at high risk for medical conditions like heart disease or stroke. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that close to half a million Americans die each year due to cigarette smoking. Because of these health risks or potential health issues, insurance carriers will automatically increase the premiums for cigarette smokers vs. non-smokers.

Most life insurance companies will place you in the smokers category if you are a cigar smoker, use a nicotine patch or are an occasional smoker. The limits vary by carrier, which is why it’s important to get several quotes for life insurance coverage to find the one that best fits your needs and budget.  

But you shouldn’t have to pay 4 or 5 times more than non-smokers for the quality coverage you need to protect your loved ones.

Finding affordable life insurance if you smoke cigarettes is not impossible. However, it requires you to take advantage of the shopping process by choosing an insurer with a more lenient underwriting method in favor of smokers vs nonsmokers rates. 

Here is what you need to know about getting life insurance as a smoker. Learn how to get the best rates whether you smoke daily, are an occasional cigar smoker, prefer vaping or recreational marijuana use. Plus, why you should never consider lying on your life insurance application, especially as a smoker.

IN THIS POST:

HOW MUCH MORE DO SMOKERS PAY FOR LIFE INSURANCE?

More than most factors, tobacco has a huge impact on life insurance premiums. Insurers have even created a separate category to give out life insurance quotes for smokers vs nonsmokers.

You may not realize the impact smoking has on your life insurance budget until you see the real numbers in action. The following applicant is a 40-year-old male applying for $500,000 in term life insurance coverage for 20 years:

Preferred Rate Standard Rate
Non-smoker $41 a month $66 a month
Smoker $149 a month $192 a month

Over the course of a year, this applicant — even if he is in good health, qualifying for preferred rates — would pay $1,788 for his coverage as a smoker and only $492 as a smoke-free applicant.

That’s a difference of $1,296 for the same coverage each year. For all 20 years of the term life insurance policy, he’d pay $25,920 more as a smoker than he’d pay as a non-smoker.

If the same applicant’s health exam placed him with standard rates, he’d pay $1,512 more per year and $30,240 more than non-smoker rates for the entire 20-year term.

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LYING ABOUT SMOKING ON LIFE INSURANCE

Paying $30,000 more for a 20-year term policy will get your attention.

Such a big number makes people wonder: “What if I told my insurance company I didn’t smoke?” Or more likely: “Since I plan to quit anyway, can’t I just go ahead and check the box for non-tobacco?”

Here’s another favorite: “I only smoke on the weekends, so I’m not really a smoker.”

You can justify a lot of different interpretations of the facts. But your insurer won’t share your views. When it learns the facts, your insurer will interpret them as insurance fraud. 

They can refuse to pay your death benefit, leaving your loved ones without financial protection. It is always best to be upfront about any tobacco use rather than trying to hide anything from your insurance agent.

Medical Exam Lab Work

Most life insurance applications require a medical exam. However, some companies do offer no exam life insurance for smokers. The exam will: 

  • Collect your vital signs
  • Record your height and weight
  • Check your blood pressure 

Exams also require blood and urine samples, and lab tests will determine whether you have nicotine or other substances in your blood. Again, most life insurance companies will not differentiate between cigarette smoking vs other tobacco uses like chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco, or vaping electronic cigarettes.

2-Year Contestability Period

Even if you managed to avoid test detection and bought a non-tobacco policy, your insurance company still has time to investigate.

Any life insurance policy comes with a built-in contestability period of two years. During this time insurance companies will thoroughly investigate any claim. If this investigation revealed you lied on your application, your family wouldn’t receive your policy’s death benefit.

Once the two years are up, you’re still not completely clear from contestability. If there is any reason for the life insurance company to question your cause of death or events leading up to it, the company is free to investigate a claim before paying the death benefit to your beneficiary. 

When you’re applying for life insurance, honesty matters more than saving money. Fortunately, you can submit an accurate application and save on premiums when you know-how.

HOW TO GET THE BEST RATES IF YOU SMOKE

Finding the best life insurance rates as a smoker depends on a few factors:

  • Your Provider: Some providers deal more fluently with complex applications than others. Choosing the right insurance company for you can pay off.
  • Your Overall Health: Tobacco isn’t the only way to inflate premiums. By controlling other health attributes you can save money.
  • Your Policy Details: You can save by choosing a policy large enough to meet your needs but not any larger.

Let’s look at these factors individually.

BEST LIFE INSURANCE PROVIDERS COMPANIES FOR SMOKERS

With about 800 life insurers in the marketplace, finding the best life insurance company could take months. Based on our experience helping clients who smoke, we recommend starting with these four:

Banner Life

Banner Life Insurance Company  is a top-quality provider writing policies in 49 states. (In New York State shop for William Penn Life instead.)

Banner has competitive rates for smokers, and you could also get your rate re-classified as non-tobacco if you quit within a year of finalizing your coverage.

You’d have to pay for the second medical exam and underwriting process, but your new non-tobacco status could pay these fees over and over.

  • Pros: Competitive rates, solid financial footing, good term and universal coverage options, online application
  • Cons: Limited policy options for whole life, pricey for marijuana users

Prudential

Prudential Life Insurance Company is known for being more lenient with tobacco users, differentiating risks of various types of tobacco use like cigar smoking or medical marijuana.

They do not classify you as a smoker if you have not had a cigarette for 12 or more months. You may chew tobacco or smoke cigars and not be assigned a smoker, however, you might not get the best non-tobacco rates.

  • Pros: You can use other tobacco products and not be severely penalized.
  • Cons: You still won’t get the best non-tobacco rates, despite not smoking a cigarette.

SBLI

Savings Bank Life Insurance Company, or SLBI, has a more nuanced underwriting process that helps people with a variety of complexities — including smokers — find quality life insurance coverage.

We recommend SBLI to smokers who want no-exam coverage such as a $500,000 simplified issue policy. SBLI excels, especially with smaller term life policies.

  • Pros: Electronic application, simple policies
  • Cons: Slow response time

Transamerica

Transamerica Life Insurance Company’s quotes tend to be lower for current smokers, especially for applicants in their 40s.

This well-established brand has a wide variety of policies, including complex permanent policies and no-exam coverage. At Transamerica, there is something for everyone, including coverage for smokers and nonsmokers.

  • Pros: Strong financial standing, wide variety of coverage
  • Cons: Average customer service, best when purchased via phone.

Another Provider?

Life insurance underwriting is a living, breathing process. Numerous small variables that we couldn’t possibly exhaust here can make a huge difference on your application.

The companies above stand out consistently as we help clients compare rates, but another company may be your best bet.

For the best results, you should compare several quotes to make sure that you are getting the best coverage for your needs.

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IMPROVING YOUR RATES BY IMPROVING YOUR HEALTH

Yes, your tobacco status matters, but it’s not the only underwriting factor that could drive up your premiums. As a smoker who already will pay more, you should lower your risk in other ways:

  • Overall Health: Keeping your weight and blood pressure under control could qualify you for Preferred Tobacco rates instead of Standard Tobacco or a table rating.
  • Job & Hobbies: Insurance companies assess the risk of your daily activities present. You’d pay more if you have dangerous hobbies such as SCUBA diving or a dangerous job like roofing.
  • Driving Record: Avoiding speeding tickets and collisions show underwriters you’re more cautious and a lower risk to insure. This should lower your rates somewhat.
  • Credit Score: Insurers in most states can use your credit history as a way to gauge your aversion to risk. Lower credit scores correlate with other higher-risk behaviors. Higher premiums could result.
  • Applying While Young: The longer you wait to apply for life insurance, the more you’ll pay for coverage. Age, by itself, impacts premiums more than other factors. Life insurance rates are better for smokers under 40 than those over 40, for example.

APPLYING FOR THE RIGHT KIND OF COVERAGE

A big and complicated life insurance policy will cost more money whether or not you smoke. One of the best ways to avoid paying high premiums is to find the right size life insurance policy.

If you earn $60,000 a year and have little debt, for example, a $3 million policy would be overkill. A million dollars in coverage may be just what you need, and you’ll save a ton in premiums with this smaller policy.

Same thing with term length: A 30-year term makes sense when you’re 30 years old and expect to start a family and buy a huge house in the next few years. But if you’re 45 and have the house halfway paid off, a 15- or 20-year term could be enough.

Permanent insurance, as opposed to term, also adds significant cost in many cases. Permanent policies such as whole life insurance, universal life, and variable life include nice flexibilities, which could help fund your retirement. 

But if you just want to protect your family in case you died unexpectedly, leaving them with no way to pay the bills, term life will do the job for much less.

These issues apply to any life insurance shopper, but smokers and other high-risk applicants have even less wiggle room here. Smokers over 60 might have a tough time finding term life insurance coverage, so permanent life insurance could be your only chance, even if it’s more expensive.

What About No-Exam Life Insurance for Smokers?

You can get insurance without the medical exam and save a lot of time. However, this method won’t automatically save you money on your premiums. In fact, you could pay even more for no-exam coverage.

No-exam life insurance doesn’t consider all your vital signs and lab data because underwriters do not have this information. Instead, they rely on database checks and your questionnaire. When there’s doubt, they assume you’re less healthy than you are, especially if you’re a smoker.

If your health is above average, prove it with your health exam. You could qualify for Preferred Tobacco, for example, and save thousands.

SAVING MONEY BY QUITTING THE SMOKING HABIT

In the sample rates above you saw the financial impact smoking has on life insurance premiums.

So we’ll cut straight to the $30,000 question: Could you quit smoking? Could you quit soon?

Most life insurance providers, require you to have at least 12 months free of nicotine products to qualify for non-tobacco rates. 

If you’re planning to quit now, should you wait a year before applying for life insurance to get nonsmoking rates?

No. Every birthday you celebrate increases your rates for life insurance whether or not you smoke. 

Here are some better options:

  • Buy a Temporary Policy: A 10-year term with tobacco rates would cover you a couple of years while you quit the habit. Why not a 5-year or a 2-year term? Because these often cost more and are harder to find than a 10-year term. You don’t have to keep the policy its full 10 years.
  • Check Out Banner’s Reclass Policies: Banner Life lets you apply for reclassification after finalizing the coverage, usually within a year of your policy’s effective date. You could get covered now and then qualify for lower rates by successfully quitting.

Either of these options covers you now while still providing the flexibility to adapt to your new life as a non-smoker.

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WHAT ABOUT VAPING, MARIJUANA, AND CIGARS

Vaping

It took insurers a while to adjust to the prevalence of vaping but they’ve caught up with the times. More and more research shows the dangers of vaping whether you’re using Juul or another device.

As a result, life insurance underwriters classify vaping as high-risk.

Marijuana

Even if marijuana use is decriminalized in your state, it can still have a negative affect your life insurance rates. Some companies have a separate health class for cannabis while others lump it in with smoking, though a low frequency of marijuana use could help your case for lower rates. No matter what, be upfront and honest with your insurance company when you apply for coverage.

Cigars

Cigars? That’s a hazier area. Most insurers recognize you can light a celebratory cigar without shortening your lifespan. However, these same companies have a low threshold for how often you can enjoy that cigar. In most cases, if you smoke more than one cigar per month you’ll pay higher rates on new coverage.

Now, if your medical exam reveals nicotine or other chemicals related to cigars you’ll have a harder time qualifying for the best rates.

Nicotine Gum and Patches

Nicotine gums or patches can help you quit but they will still release chemicals into your blood, and your medical exam will show you’re a smoker. A conversation with your life insurance provider could help clear up the confusion. Naturally, your insurer will want to know when you last smoked.

LIFE INSURANCE FOR SMOKERS: SHOPPING TIPS

Some life insurance shoppers have it made. They can have quality, affordable coverage in place within minutes:

  • The young and healthy
  • Non-smokers
  • People who work in offices during the week and sleep in on the weekends
  • The ones who don’t travel outside the country or take part in risky outdoor activities

Those of us with more complex lives have to work harder. People with health conditions, high-risk habits, and dangerous jobs will often get turned down for coverage. Or, they get approved but the premiums are too high and out of their budget.

Your complex life doesn’t mean you should go without the coverage your family needs. Instead, it means you’ll have to work a little harder to find the right life insurance policy.

Complex lifestyles and health profiles require expertise to find the best life insurance company, policy, and premium. Independent agencies like ours exist to help you piece together this complicated puzzle. Contact us below or get in touch with an agent in your area.

Everybody — even the most complex applicant — needs the right amount of life insurance coverage and shouldn’t have to pay exorbitant premiums to get it. Don’t pay more than you have to for life insurance. Contact us today to find an agent who can work for you.