Cheap Life Insurance for Smokers: How Tobacco Use Affects Rates

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Smokers can get life insurance, but the same person will pay much higher rates if they 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?

Life insurance companies typically charge higher rates for smokers, though the final rate you pay will also depend on a number of other factors related to your age, health, family history and chosen coverage. The cost of life insurance for smokers versus nonsmokers varies based upon your age, with older applicants facing a larger increase in the cost of coverage. As you can see below, the cost of term life insurance for the same applicant would be between 164% and 343% more expensive if they smoke.

Term life insurance quotes for smokers vs nonsmokers

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 rates than a nonsmoker would pay.

Though each company has a different system, whether you smoke and your health factors typically determine which rating category you fall into, with nonpreferred and smoker categories being associated with higher premiums. These categories are applied when you purchase a life insurance policy 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 have 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.

Typically, the above rating order correlates with the rates you'll pay for a given level of life insurance coverage. So, 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 penalize you with higher premiums. This rating system applies no matter the type of life insurance policy you choose, whether it's term, whole life or universal life 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 for a policy. They also confirm your responses through a medical exam, unless you choose a no exam policy, and by referencing your physician records.

Life insurance companies use saliva, urine or blood tests to determine if there's nicotine or cotinine in your system in order to tell if you're a smoker. These chemicals may appear if you've used a variety of 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. And, 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 that has passed since you quit will be limiting factors in getting the best life insurance 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 expensive than nonsmoker life insurance rates—and how frequently you chew tobacco will impact your cost of coverage.

The blood test in a medical exam just 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 people that chew tobacco than smoke, you should make sure to specify this in your application. Just note that 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 over more than once per month (meaning one cigar, not one occasion)
  • Test positive for nicotine during your exam (a cigar will show 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 define you as a smoker, and you'll qualify for the best life insurance rates. But the more frequently you smoke a cigar, the more likely you are to receive more expensive, smoker ratings—fewer insurers will consider you a nonsmoker.

For example, MetLife is relatively strict in only allowing four cigars per year before you're considered to be a smoker. A number of companies will let you qualify for their cheapest Preferred Plus rates if your only tobacco use is up to one cigar per month and you test negative for nicotine, such as: 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. And life insurers, such as American General and Nationwide, may still 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 a nicotine patch, this will show up in a life insurance medical exam's 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 life insurance 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 as a form of smoking, meaning you'll qualify for a smoker rating with regard to premiums. You should still make sure to specify that you vape when submitting a life insurance 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 indicate that you're a smoker 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 life insurance companies that considers this a different category. But, similar to other forms of tobacco use, 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

Life insurance companies check for drug usage, including THC which indicates marijuana use, when you take a medical exam with a blood test. They'll typically ask about 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. And depending on the insurer, 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. However, we recommend being entirely honest with your life insurance company 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, and having a severe diagnosis is likely to actually make a larger impact on your ability to get affordable coverage than your marijuana use.

Best Life Insurance Rates for Smokers

The best life insurance company for smokers will depend 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 insurance rates for cigarette smokers. Though, if you use other forms of tobacco, such as e-cigarettes and 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, using nicotine gum or the patch, 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 nonsmokers' 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.
  • In addition, no-exam life insurance tends to be more expensive because insurers are unable to test and confirm the information you've provided about your health.

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 in order to get coverage. And it's equally as important to be honest about your 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 will typically clarify 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 due to seeing cotinine or nicotine in your blood and urine 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 depending on your level of usage. And, if the insurer confirms your health with your doctor, and 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 be able to deny your beneficiary's claim. So, while you may have secured lower premiums, you'll have paid for a policy that won't provide your intended benefit.

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