According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco remains the single most preventable cause of death in America: “Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, with more than 41,000 of these deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke.” The life of a smoker is also averaged to be about 10 years shorter than a non-smoker.
Despite these facts—in addition to the exorbitant cost of tobacco and stronger prohibitive measures by state—cigarette smoking remains prevalent in our daily lives.
Cigarette prices are not the only financial cost of being a smoker; life insurance rates are also affected.
In the 1970s, the US Surgeon General put out a report on the dangers of tobacco. Since then, life insurance companies have increased their premiums for smokers. Smoking is considered a high-risk activity, and therefore, a major red flag for providers. Premiums for a 30-year-old smoker can cost a third more than a non-smoker; premiums for a 50-year-old smoker can add up to double the cost of a regular policy. Because it is such a preventable and explicitly harmful habit, life insurance companies offer these high rates to justify the risk.
Usually, an insurance provider defines a smoker as someone who has used tobacco and nicotine of any kind within a specified timeframe (usually within the last 12 months). This includes all types of tobacco or nicotine products: cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, and even e-cigarettes. For example, even if the individual claims to have had one cigarette six months prior, or even a celebratory cigar, they’d still be considered a smoker by the insurance company’s standards. Even if they aren’t cigarettes, smoking of any kind will have an affect on life insurance rates.
All smokers are treated equally; underwriters rarely consider usage rate when determining premium costs. Frequency and amount of smoking are factors that rarely affect insurance rates.
Those with a history of smoking may have their risk downgraded if they can prove they’ve abstained from tobacco use for a period of 12 to 36 months (depending on the company) However, this may require the individual to re-apply for insurance.
It’s pretty common for smokers to put “non smoker” down on their application in an effort to avoid the high premiums. Some may wonder how could an insurance company—with their countless clients—know if I was telling the truth?
Generally, it doesn’t pay to lie on the application. Companies often base their decisions on the results of health exams, which include blood, saliva and urine analyses. If they find any amounts of nicotine in any of the results, they will deny an individual coverage. This is also considered fraud, so even if you fool them in the application process, they could contest the claim if they find out you didn’t tell the truth.
Even though smoking may negatively affect life insurance rates, it’s not impossible to be covered. No two companies are the same, and individuals should always shop around with several companies to find the best rates. Always be truthful about tobacco and marijuana usage on the applications.