If you are one of the millions of smokers in the United States, affordable life insurance may seem like a difficult commodity to come by. While you will experience a higher premium (often called a tobacco surcharge) or have a tobacco rating for your life insurance, this does not mean that all hope is lost for affordable life insurance for smokers. With a bit of research, you can find affordable life insurance as a smoker.

Who is Classified as a Smoker

What classifies an individual as a smoker when it comes to life insurance? And how long do you have to be a non-smoker to qualify for non-smoker rates?

Well, to be specific, this can be an ambiguous topic since insurance companies themselves are responsible for determining their own guidelines and classifications towards smokers. However, a vast majority of life insurance companies consider anyone who has smoked regularly within the last 12 months to be a smoker.

Some companies are even more stringent with their classification, considering smokers as anyone who has smoked regularly within the last 5 years.

When it comes to defining a regular user, things also get a little foggy. Again, each company is allowed to create their own classifications and guidelines as to how they determine life insurance premiums based on lifestyle, health conditions, demographics, and risk profile. However, more often than not, a regular user is usually identified as someone who smokes on a daily, or weekly basis for an extended period of time.

What about if I smoke cigars once in a while?

If you are someone who will have the occasional celebratory cigar to relax or kick back, you more than likely have nothing to worry about. However, even smoking once in a while can have negative effects on your health, and therefore raise your level of risk to an insurer. For the occasional cigar smoker, life insurance can come at a non-smoker rate, if you choose the right insurance company.

So, that being said, can companies charge you more if you smoke? Why do insurance companies charge higher premiums for smokers? And how much more expensive is life insurance for smokers when compared with non-smokers? 

Let’s take a look:

The Stats on Smoking

statistics about smoking in the US

First of all, let’s point out the facts. Smoking is dangerous. Very dangerous. To put it in perspective just how dangerous smoking is to human health, in 2016, 20% of all U.S. deaths were related to nicotine or tobacco related health problems.

Now, I am not saying this to lecture you about  your life decisions and what you should be doing. Smoking is your choice and I am not your mother. However, it is important to understand how the long-term negative health effects of smoking on the human body play a role in higher life insurance premiums for smokers.

If we take a deeper look, one person every 6 seconds in the United States dies from a tobacco related death.

Regular tobacco users also experience a much higher chance of being diagnosed with a number of deadly diseases and health complications that include but are not limited to:

These health complications can be deadly, and have been known to kill many smokers long before their average lifespan is achieved. And increased risk of mortality in the eyes of an insurance company spells out liability in big red letters.

When you stop to consider the fact that insurance companies determine the prices of their premiums based on the risk an individual faces of dying during the term of their policy, it becomes more clear why smokers experience higher life insurance premiums — put simply, they are a higher risk than non smokers.

While other factors come into play in the determination of premiums, your health and lifestyle certainly weigh heavily on your premium.

So How Does Smoking Affect My Life Insurance Rates?

how much does smoking affect my life insurance rates?
With this knowledge, the question now is not “Do you pay more for life insurance as a smoker?” but, “How much more do you pay for life insurance as a smoker?”.

As I mentioned earlier, tobacco users or smokers of any kind are a higher insurable risk than those who do not use tobacco products. As a result, they are faced with a tobacco surcharge or tobacco rating, which is a higher premium rate in order to account for their higher risk profile.

Depending on the insurance company, life insurance rates for smokers can be drastically different between firms. One important thing to do before deciding on a policy is to compare rates from a variety of providers in order to determine what the best bang for your buck is. After all, protecting your loved ones and making sure they are cared for financially in the event of your untimely death is a very serious matter that deserves some thought.

What About Vaping, E-Cigs, Smokeless Tobacco, etc..?

Most insurance companies consider any form of smoking or tobacco/nicotine usage under the umbrella of smoking. This means that even if you do not smoke cigarettes, but readily partake in the usage of vapes, e-cigs, smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco, nicotine patches and gum, or any other tobacco or nicotine product, you also fall under the umbrella of a regular user.

While the need for a tobacco surcharge for these alternatives to cigarettes may seem outrageous, equally harmful carcinogens can be identified in these products, which can lead to equally harmful medical complications.

Why do these smoking alternatives still add a tobacco rating onto your life insurance policy?

To start, vaping and e-cigs are fairly new on the market, and as a result, have little statistical evidence to prove that they are a “safe” alternative to cigarettes. To an insurance company that literally bases their entire revenue structure and business model around statistics and probability, this is a less than favorable leg for you to stand on, despite what your opinions on e-cigs and vaping may be.

Are you a non smoker if you vape?

am i considered a smoker if i vape?

Many people often ask,  “is vaping considered smoking for insurance purposes”, and the short answer is yes.

Vape liquids contain hazardous metals, carcinogens, formaldehyde, silicate particles and vapors that expand from their room temperature liquid form under high heat and pressure into a gaseous form, creating those billowing clouds of smoke. Once inside your lungs, the gas desperately looks for a way to escape and expand, and as a result, actually finds its way into your lung tissue faster than smoke from a cigarette.

On top of that, these forms of smoking have been known to cause respiratory and circulatory problems such as popcorn lung, arrhythmia, weakened immune system, and all other health problems associated with smoking.

Are you a non smoker if you use smokeless tobacco?

Chewing tobacco may not affect your lungs, but it still damages your body through the nicotine it contains. Long term usage can cause mouth, jaw, tongue, throat and stomach cancer, dental problems, receding gum line, rotten teeth, and more. To an insurance company, that spells risk.

What about nicotine patches and gum?

As far as nicotine patches and nicotine gum go, they are also considered under the umbrella of smoking by most insurance companies due to their nicotine content. While this may seem discouraging as someone who may be trying to quit smoking or tobacco/nicotine use, there are some companies that offer a lowering of your premium once you have proven you have quit for good. To do this, you must retake your medical exams.

What if I recently quit smoking and want to apply for a life insurance policy?

Again, most insurers are looking for you to be smoke free for a period of 12 months before considering you a non-smoker. In order to avoid a tobacco surcharge on your insurance, the best thing you can do is wait the 12 month period out and then apply.

What if I was a smoker, but then quit after I signed my life insurance policy?

Obviously, in the world of life insurance, waiting this year may not be an option for people. If this is the case for you, the next best thing you can do is apply for a life insurance policy as a smoker. After a certain period of time (usually a year or two), most insurance companies will allow you to retake your medical exam in order to prove you are in better health and are no longer smoking. Be sure to ask your insurance agent about this option before making a decision on a policy, as it can save you big money in the long run on a term policy.

Questions You Will Be Asked By Insurance Agents

what kind of questions will my doctor ask in a medical examination for life insurance?

When looking for a new life insurance provider, you will always be asked about your medical history. Additionally, you will be asked to provide medical records from the past, and take a medical examination in order to assess your health so the insurance company can properly assign you a premium that mirrors your risk of death during the given time period of your policy term.

While there is such a thing as no-medical exam life insurance, the premiums are inherently high due to the large risk profile each policyholder poses to the insurer. Even with a tobacco surcharge, your life insurance premium will be much lower with a medical exam than in a no medical exam policy.

During the process of assessing your risk profile, most insurance agents will likely ask a list of questions related to your smoking history. Some questions you can expect to be asked are:

  • How long have/did you smoke for?
  • How many cigarettes do/did you smoke a day?
  • Are you a current user?
  • When did you quit?

Based on your answers to these questions, the company can then use this knowledge about your past smoking habits to assess your risk profile. The truth will come out in your medical examinations anyways, so there is really no sense in lying. While lying in the insurance application process is not considered fraud, it can cause you to be declined coverage, and become a questionable candidate for a multitude of other companies.

Put simply, lying about smoking on health insurance applications is just not worth it.

Medical tests that confirm smoking

what tests prove that you smoke cigarettes

So I’m sure by now there are a few smokers who are still saying to themselves, “Yeah right, give me a break. How do insurance companies find out if you smoke anyways?”

Well sir or madam, it’s 2018, and you best believe insurance companies have the resources to make sure you aren’t lying about your smoking habits on that application. Even if you lie and get through as a non-smoker, you run the risk of your family not receiving the policy’s death benefit if you pass away during the first two years of the policy. If it is discovered that you lied about smoking, the insurance company’s contestability clause allows them to contest the claim. Being completely truthful, in the case of smoking, will raise your premiums, but it insures that your family will receive the death benefit if you pass away. I don’t think it’s worth the risk. Do you?

The main suspect that insurance companies are looking for when testing to see if people are smokers is nicotine. Some of the most common methods used by insurance agencies to test for smoking history are:

Urine test

This is the most common method of testing. Usually, it is difficult to detect nicotine in urine after about a week of no smoking. Even the heaviest smokers  rarely test positive in a urine test if they have gone 7 days or more without smoking.

Saliva test

This is the second most common test for smoking on a medical exam. This test extends a bit further back from urine tests, and usually can be used to detect smoking within the past month or so. Usually, due to the fact that our bodies produce new saliva about every month, it is difficult to trace much further back than that with a saliva test.

Additionally, there are a few foods that can cause a false positive for nicotine on a medical exam. In the event of this happening, the insurance company usually will fall back on an additional urine test to prove or disprove their findings in the saliva test.

Blood test

This type of test is much less common than the two listed above. It is generally more expensive than urine and saliva tests, and can equally test in a false positive due to some environmental factors and chemicals in some common foods. Because of this inaccuracy and high cost, it is not often used for detecting nicotine in life insurance medical exams.

If it is used, the results of a blood test can usually tell someone’s smoking history for the last month or so, but not much further back than that. In the event of a false positive, a urine test is the fallback to prove or disprove the findings of the blood test.

Hair test

This is the least common type of health insurance smoking test. It also happens to be the most expensive, and the most accurate. Outside of a few circumstances, where occupational hazards may require you to get a very high insurance premium, it is unlikely that you will be administered a hair test for tobacco or nicotine.

If this is to happen, the results are viewed with a much higher level of accuracy than the other tests, and the test can also trace much further back in your history – depending on the length of your hair. If you have hair that is very long, chances are it took you years to grow. If you smoked regularly within that time period, your hair will tell the story.

How long does nicotine stay in your blood, saliva, hair, and urine for life insurance purposes?

It’s hard to tell.

It is important to understand that each individual’s body is different, and therefore each person processes toxins differently. For that reason, it can be difficult to give an exact estimate of how long it takes for your body to process nicotine, in order to be able to pass a medical examination as a former smoker. All points above for the various testing methods are estimates based on aggregate data.

Life Insurance Options for Smokers

what are the cheapest life insurance options for smokers?

So, at this point, smokers may be asking, “what are my options for life insurance as a smoker?”. Well, all hope is not lost. Despite the fact that you will almost certainly be charged more than your non-smoking peers for life insurance, you still have plenty of options when it comes to life insurance policies.

As I mentioned earlier, avoiding the medical exam completely is one option with no medical exam life insurance. However, these types of policies are often much higher-priced, and really only ideal for someone in pretty rough physical health.

After doing some research, and comparing the rates of hundreds of companies for dozens of age groups and demographics, I have compiled a list of the Top 5 Affordable Life Insurance Providers for Smokers:

  • Banner Life
  • Pacific Life
  • AIG
  • Transamerica
  • American National

Just to outline how these insurers can help people from various different demographics, here is a list of some basic customer profiles, and what can be expected for rates in their case.

Let’s take Judy, a 40 year old mother of 2, who has been a smoker for 20 years. She often smokes a pack a day, and her job as a teacher is considered a low risk occupation. For our purposes, let’s also say that she has never smoked any other type of tobacco product, and does not have relatives who contracted heart or cardiovascular diseases before age 70. Judy is also looking for $500,000 of coverage over a 20 year term. Our top 5 secured the following rates for her:

Provider Monthly Premium
Banner Life $96.66/mo.
AIG $97.23/mo.
Pacific Life $102.09/mo.
American National $105.41/mo.
Transamerica $109.22/mo.


Okay, next let’s look at Jason. Let’s say for the purposes of this example, Jason is a 48 year old man with 3 kids, and is an electrician. He has smoked a pack a day for the last 15 years, and is looking for a 20 year term life insurance policy with $1,750,000 of coverage. He currently makes $100,000 per year and has about 20 years left of working. His youngest child is 12 years old, he owes $140,000 on his mortgage and has another $40,000 in outstanding debt from loans. Based on this, it is estimated that in the event of his death, his family would need $1,750,000 in order to pay off outstanding debts and make up for the loss of his income for the remainder of the 20 year time period he would still be working. His quotes from our top 5 are as follows:

Provider Monthly Premium
Banner Life $893.71/mo.
Pacific Life $897.87/mo.
AIG $898.65/mo.
Transamerica $937.19/mo.
American National $984.96/mo.

As I said, this list is based on my research of hundreds of competitors across multiple age, gender, and occupational ranges. While I can’t promise they will always have the lowest life insurance premiums for smokers based on your specific situation, I am positive that these companies will be in the top 10 cheapest, and also some of the best service and coverage in the industry.

Wrapping it all up

Insurance companies base their premiums and policy protection almost entirely on statistics and risk analysis. If you are a smoker, naturally, you are a higher risk to an insurance company due to the inherent health problems associated with long term smoking of cigarettes or usage of other tobacco products. As a result, your life insurance premium will likely be higher than your non-smoker peers due to what is called a tobacco rating.

When it comes to what classifies an individual as a regular smoker, each company has their own definition. When it comes to quitting however, most insurers hold fairly similar views that a 12 month period of no smoking is necessary before someone can be considered a non-smoker again.

If waiting out this period is a viable option for you and your family, it may be worth the wait because of the resulting lower premium. However, it should be known that you might still have a given level of health risks associated with you due to your past smoking history.

If this is not an option for you, or you simply do not wish to quit smoking, there are plenty of options for life insurance for smokers out there. It is essential for anyone, regardless of circumstances, to shop around before considering a life insurance policy to ensure they get the best rates and the best coverage.


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Richard Reich

CEO - Licensed Agent

Richard Reich CEO and Licensed agent

In my 20+ years as an independent life and disability insurance broker, I have personally assisted thousands of clients with their life and disability insurance needs.  Being independent, I represent many highly-rated insurance companies and, because I am not beholden to any one insurance company, my focus is to find the right company and policy for each individual client. I believe that when people shop for insurance (or anything else, for that matter) on the Internet, they are looking for a simple, non-intrusive, non-pressure method of doing so.  I strive to treat my prospective clients with the utmost respect and I believe an educated prospect can make the right decision without sales pressure. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience.


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