Let’s be clear about this upfront: If you smoke you’ll pay more for life insurance than non-smokers. Applicants who use tobacco products like chew tobacco, vape, and use recreational marijuana will also pay higher premiums.
Why? Life insurance companies charge premiums based on risk, and these habits put your health at greater risk. Smoking places you at high risk for medical conditions like heart disease or stroke. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control states that more than 480,000 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.
In fact, most companies will place you in the smoker’s category if you are a cigar smoker or use a nicotine patch. The bottom line is if you have any proof of nicotine use in your blood, whether from cigarettes or not, most companies will not differentiate. Companies will have you take a urine test, searching for cotinine, a byproduct of your body metabolizing nicotine.
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.
You can save some money by taking control of your shopping process and choosing an insurer with a more nuanced underwriting method. Finding affordable life insurance if you smoke cigarettes is not impossible.
IN THIS POST:
- Sample Insurance Rates for Smokers
- How Do Insurance Companies Know if You Are A Smoker?
- How to Get the Best Rates if You Smoke
- Best Life Insurance Providers for Smokers
- Saving Money by Quitting the Habit
- Rates for Marijuana, Vaping and Other Habits
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.
Let’s look at some sample numbers so you can see the difference 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 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 tobacco user 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.
How Do Insurance Companies Know If You Are A Smoker?
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. The exam will collect your vital signs, your height and weight, and check your blood pressure.
Exams also require blood and urine samples, and subsequent lab tests will determine whether you have nicotine or other substances in your blood. Again, most companies will not differentiate between cigarette smoking and other tobacco uses like chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco, or 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 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’d lied on your application, your family wouldn’t receive your policy’s death benefit.
Even after the 2-year contestability period, your insurance company could still investigate a claim if prompted by facts.
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 and 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 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 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 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 may still not receive 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’s more nuanced underwriting 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’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.
- Pros: Strong financial standing, wide variety of coverage
- Cons: Average customer service, best when purchased via phone.
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.
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 quotient 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 most other factors.
Applying for the Right Kind of Coverage
A big and complicated life insurance policy will cost more money whether or not you smoke. You could save on premiums with right-size 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-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. You could even use these plans to 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.
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 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.
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 Habit
We’ve been putting this topic off because nobody wants to hear a sermon about quitting the habit. You already know everything there is to say on this topic. But 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?
For most providers, you will need at least 12 months without nicotine in your system to qualify for non-tobacco rates. So should you wait a year before applying for life insurance?
No. You need protection now, and each birthday brings higher rates for a new policy 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.
What About Vaping, Marijuana, and Cigars
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 use also falls into this category in most cases, 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? That’s a hazier area. Most insurers recognize you can light a celebratory cigar without shortening your lifespan. But insurers need a measurement for this. 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. The young and healthy, the non-smokers, the people who work in offices during the week and sleep in on the weekends. They can have quality, affordable coverage in place within minutes.
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 else they’ll get approved but their premiums will cost way too much.
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.
And it means you’ll have to ask for help. Independent agencies like ours exist to help you work this 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.*While we make every effort to keep our site updated, please be aware that "timely" information on this page, such as quote estimates, or pertinent details about companies, may only be accurate as of its last edit day. Huntley Wealth & Insurance Services and its representatives do not give legal or tax advice. Please consult your own legal or tax adviser.