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Cheap Life Insurance for Smokers

Cheap Life Insurance for Smokers

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Smokers can get life insurance, but you will pay much higher rates if you use tobacco products. We analyzed life insurance quotes from five national insurers and found that smokers paid an average of 215% more for coverage than nonsmokers. Depending on how frequently you smoke and your method, the best life insurance company for you will vary, as some insurers offer cheaper rates for occasional smokers or those that don't smoke cigarettes specifically.

How much more do life insurance companies charge for smokers?

Insurers typically charge higher rates for smokers, though your rate will also depend on factors like your age, health, family history and chosen coverage. The cost of life insurance for smokers versus nonsmokers varies based upon age, with older applicants facing a larger increase. As shown below, the premiums for term life insurance would be between 164% and 343% more expensive for smokers.

Term life insurance quotes for smokers vs nonsmokers

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Across our sample of five companies, the average cost of life insurance coverage for a 35-year-old smoker was $1,119 per year, or 215% more expensive than nonsmoker rates.

Whether you smoke and your health factors determine which rating category you fall into, with nonpreferred and smoker categories being associated with higher premiums, though each company has a different system. These categories are applied at the time of purchase so, if you started smoking after you bought coverage, your rates wouldn't increase.

Typical Life Insurance Rating Categories

  • Preferred Plus: Nonsmokers in great health with little to no family history of medical conditions.
  • Preferred: Nonsmokers in good health that may have a minor condition, such as elevated blood pressure.
  • Standard Plus: Nonsmokers in good health that have a couple minor conditions or a higher BMI.
  • Standard: Nonsmokers with average health or that have a family history of medical conditions.
  • Preferred Smoker: Smokers, or those that just recently quit, in great health with little to no family history of medical issues.
  • Smoker (Standard): Smokers with good or average health.
  • Table Rating: Reserved for those with below-average health. Table ratings generally carry the highest life insurance rates.

If you have no medical issues, are in great shape and have no family history of medical issues, but you smoke cigarettes, insurance companies will typically penalize you with higher premiums. This rating system applies for term, whole life or universal life insurance coverage.

In some cases, if you purchased a life insurance policy as a smoker but later quit, your insurer will change your rating and lower your premiums. This isn't always the case, but we recommend asking your insurer so you can take advantage of the discount if it's available.

How are smokers defined for life insurance?

Depending on the insurer, you may be defined as a smoker for life insurance purposes if you use any nicotine products, including cigars, pipes, e-cigarettes, nicotine gum or the patch. Life insurers will ask about your use of these products when you apply. They confirm your responses by referencing your physician records and through a medical exam, unless you choose a no-exam policy.

Life insurance companies use saliva, urine or blood tests to determine if there's nicotine or cotinine in your system. These chemicals may appear if you've used tobacco or nicotine products, though not if you've simply been exposed to secondhand smoke, which is one of the reasons it's important to specify your usage. Some tobacco and nicotine products will not cause you to be rated as a smoker, particularly if you just use them occasionally, such as a celebratory cigar a few times a year. But a test won't indicate the difference.

If you've recently quit smoking, nicotine and cotinine can stay in your system for weeks depending on your previous usage. Depending on the insurer, you typically won't be considered a nonsmoker for a life insurance rating until at least 12 months after quitting. How frequently you used to smoke and the amount of time since you quit will be limiting factors in getting the best rates. For instance, you may not be able to qualify for Preferred rates until at least two to four years after you've stopped smoking cigarettes.

Chewing tobacco

Chewing tobacco is typically treated the same as smoking from a life insurance perspective. You'll generally only qualify for smoker rates—generally at least two to three times more than nonsmoker rates—and how frequently you chew tobacco will impact your cost of coverage.

The blood test in a medical exam tests for nicotine, which will appear in your system if you've recently used chewing tobacco. An insurer won't be able to distinguish between chewing tobacco and smoking cigarettes so, in case the insurer is more lenient toward chewing tobacco than cigarettes, you should make sure to specify in your application. However, this typically isn't the case, and you'll likely face smoker life insurance premiums.

Cigars and pipes

Cigar and pipe smokers will likely receive smoker life insurance rates if they:

  • Smoke more than one cigar per month
  • Test positive for nicotine (a cigar will show up on a nicotine test if you've smoked recently)
  • Use any other tobacco products

If you smoke less than one cigar per month and don't use other forms of tobacco, many insurers won't consider you a smoker, and you'll qualify for the best life insurance rates. But the more frequently you smoke cigars, the more likely you are to receive expensive smoker ratings—fewer insurers will consider you a nonsmoker.

For example, MetLife is relatively strict in allowing only four cigars per year before you're considered a smoker. Some companies will let you qualify for their cheapest Preferred Plus rates if you use only one cigar per month and test negative for nicotine, including Banner, John Hancock, Mutual of Omaha, Nationwide and Transamerica.

People that smoke up to two cigars per month can only qualify for nonsmoker Preferred rates at a smaller pool of insurers, including Aviva, Lincoln Financial and Minnesota Life.

Cigar smokers that smoke up to once per week can qualify for nonsmoker life insurance rates at a few insurers, but you should make sure to compare quotes from these companies against those you'd receive elsewhere. Life insurers such as American General and Nationwide may require weekly cigar smokers to be negative on a nicotine test, indicating you don't smoke frequently, before offering Preferred rates.

Nicotine gum and patch

If you use nicotine gum or patches, they will show up in a blood or urine test, so it's important to disclose your usage in the application. Some life insurance companies treat smoking cessation products, like nicotine gum, the same as cigarettes when setting rates, while others will treat you as a nonsmoker. Make sure to clarify with your insurer if you use these products but no longer smoke, as well as how long it's been since you smoked, as these factors will determine the rating you receive.

Vaping and e-cigarettes

Life insurance companies typically consider vaping a form of smoking, meaning you'll qualify for a smoker rating. You should still specify that you vape when submitting an application, as not all companies treat them the same, and you may qualify for a better rate. Otherwise, the insurer will assume you're a smoker, and you will only qualify for tobacco ratings. When you get a life insurance medical exam, your blood and urine may be tested for nicotine and cotinine, which will appear in your system and whether you use e-cigarettes or traditional ones.

As greater data is collected on vaping, more insurers may give e-cigarette smokers better rates, but currently Prudential is one of the few companies that considers it a different category. How vaping affects your life insurance rates will be partially dependent on how frequently you use e-cigarettes and whether you have any health conditions.

Life Insurance for marijuana smokers

Insurance exam blood tests check for drug usage, including THC which indicates marijuana use. They'll typically ask whether you smoke weed on your application as well.

You can get life insurance as a cannabis user, but not from every insurer—some will automatically reject your application due to drug use. Marijuana users may be classified as smokers, meaning that even if you were offered coverage, you wouldn't qualify for the cheaper nontobacco life insurance rates, depending on the insurer. We recommend being entirely honest about your marijuana use as failing to do so could be considered fraud, and your policy could be canceled or a claim could be denied.

In addition, some life insurance companies will offer nonsmoker rates to marijuana users, depending on how frequently you smoke weed. For example, if you smoke marijuana twice a month, you'd be able to qualify for above-average life insurance ratings from Prudential and Aviva, so long as your blood test came back negative.

If you use medical marijuana, the situation is essentially the same, except you're likely to face even higher life insurance rates due to the condition you've been prescribed marijuana to manage. Medical cannabis is often used to treat quite serious illnesses, such as cancer. Having a severe diagnosis is likely to make a larger impact on your ability to get affordable coverage than your marijuana use.

Best life insurance rates for smokers

The best insurer for smokers depends on your method and frequency of tobacco use. Among the top-rated insurers, Banner, Northwestern Mutual and Transamerica offer some of the best term life rates for cigarette smokers. If you use other forms of tobacco, such as e-cigarettes, cigars or nicotine products, the cheapest life insurance company may vary based upon your usage. Prudential, for instance, may offer nonsmoker rates if you vape, use nicotine gum or patches, or chew tobacco.

If you're currently a smoker but are looking to quit, you likely won't qualify for the best life insurance rates for at least 12 to 24 months after you've stopped using tobacco. In this case, the most affordable option may be to purchase a cheaper policy with a short term, then buy a longer-term policy once you've quit for long enough to qualify for nonsmoker rates. Alternatively, you could purchase your intended policy then ask for a health class reconsideration—but you should check with your life insurance company as to whether this is an option.

No-exam life insurance for smokers

A no-exam life insurance policy is a good option for smokers who need coverage quickly, or would have trouble passing a medical exam due to other conditions, and don't need a large death benefit. These simplified issue policies are available for both term and whole life insurance coverage, but they have some limitations:

  • The maximum death benefit is significantly lower than what you'd be able to buy with a medically underwritten policy.
  • No-exam life insurance tends to be more expensive because insurers are unable to test and confirm your health information.

Note that, even though you won't be tested for nicotine and cotinine in order to purchase a no-exam policy, you'll still need to complete questions regarding tobacco use. It's equally as important to be honest about any smoking, vaping or other tobacco use. Otherwise, your beneficiaries may not receive a payout if you pass away and the insurer can demonstrate you were untruthful in your application.

Lying on life insurance application about smoking

Every insurer will ask whether you've smoked or used tobacco products in their application and how recently and frequently you've done so. Lying on a life insurance application about smoking or other tobacco use is a bad idea, and we strongly recommend against it.

First, if your life insurance policy requires a medical exam, your insurer is likely to find out about your tobacco use by seeing cotinine or nicotine in your blood and urine test results. Even if you quit smoking for a period of time before the exam, these chemicals can stay in your system for a long time. If your doctor's records indicate that you've been a smoker, this will also be taken into account when setting your life insurance rates.

Additionally, if you manage to secure a life insurance policy as a nonsmoker and the insurer learns of your tobacco use post-mortem, they may deny your beneficiary's claim. So, while you may secure lower premiums, you pay for a policy that won't provide your intended benefit.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.