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Up in Smoke: How Nicotine Affects Senior’s Life Insurance

In 1946, an ad campaign declared Camels to be the doctor’s choice of cigarettes. It was considered cool to smoke, with big-screen actors regularly smoking on camera. Lucky Strike even proclaimed women could keep a slim figure by smoking. In what was essentially a lie, cigarettes were advertised as having health benefits. Now, however, it is well-documented how cigarettes negatively affect health, most especially by causing cancer. What does this mean for seniors who currently or used to smoke when it comes to getting a life insurance policy?

What makes you a smoker?

There is a simple question you must answer when applying for health insurance: Have you smoked in the past 12 (24, 36, etc.) months? You may not consider yourself a smoker, only smoking a single cigarette on the weekend when you meet with friends for pool and exchanging grandkid stories. Unfortunately, the insurance industry disagrees.

That question is a yes or no. It’s quantitative – that is, it doesn’t ask how many cigarettes. Only whether you have or have not. If you answer yes, you are a smoker. After this question comes the question of how often – which further affects your rates, and will always be higher than non-smokers – likely about double the premiums at least, and possibly even quadruple. This will be dependent on a medical exam, usually through urine, to test for nicotine.

Other smoking options:

What about other forms of tobacco consumption? Here’s a list that will affect your rates:

  • Cigars
  • E-cigarettes
  • Vaporizers
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine patches
  • Marijuana

How do each of these affect your premiums?

Cigars

The occasional celebratory cigar – say the birth of a grandchild – may be overlooked and not get you on the smoking list. However, it is important to note that different insurance companies have different definitions of “occasional.” It may be 4 cigars per year or 10. If asked to take a medical exam, you may want to hold off on celebrating, as nicotine will stay in your system for 4 or 5 days.

E-cigarettes and vaporizers

To insurance companies, nicotine is nicotine. Whether it is delivered through a cigarette, e-cigarette or vaporizer, insurance companies will consider you a smoker.

Chewing tobacco

While still dangerous to your health, chewing tobacco can place you in an in-between category, depending on the insurance company. This could be on the same level as smoking celebratory cigars.

Nicotine gum and patches

Trying to quit smoking through nicotine and patches is seen favorably by some insurance providers. You may be put in the in-between category, or you could be roped in with smokers as it is nicotine in your system – and remember some companies simply don’t differentiate between methods of nicotine ingestion.

Marijuana

Though not nicotine, smoking marijuana recreationally may categorize you as a smoker. This is more nebulous than the previous items, with a wider range of categories from different companies. Smoking once per week may not cause one company to label you a smoker, while another company might raise your rate for 4-6 times per week, though not necessarily to smoker levels, while 3 days a week or less will see no rate hikes.

However, medical marijuana users are mostly exempt. Insurance companies will instead look at the underlying issue to determine your rates.

Can you trick the test?

Now that we know how to be labeled a smoker in the eyes of insurance companies, one question often pops up: Can I get around the label? In other words, is it possible to be a smoker, but say you are not and get non-smoker rates?

Yes and no. It may be possible to deceive testers during the medical exam, but this is not the only source insurance companies have. Social media can give you away, for instance. Photos of you smoking when you declared yourself a non-smoker will not be favorable to your insurer.

What happens if you are found out? Insurance companies have a few options. The worst, of course, is criminally charging you with insurance fraud. Or, they could simply decide to deny you coverage. Your coverage may be revoked and your premiums paid back. Or, should you die from tobacco-related causes but not be a declared smoker, the company could just not pay out the benefits.

Other options

What options do you have as a smoker, but you don’t want to pay astronomical prices for insurance? Your best option in this case is an insurance plan with no medical exam. There are drawbacks, however. Plans may not take effect for 24 months, and premiums will be higher than a plan that requires an exam. However, as a middle ground, it could be lower than what you would be paying as a smoker.

Quitting

A second option is to quit smoking or ingesting nicotine altogether. Then, wait a year, and apply for coverage that requires a medical test. If you are already on an insurance plan as a smoker, you may have to wait longer, such as proving you are nicotine-free for two or three years, again usually through urine samples. Some companies may also require documentation of joining a cessation program, designed to help you quit.

While different companies have different policies, there is one constant for nicotine users: being labeled a smoker will cost you more money for a life insurance plan. While you can try to deceive the companies, admitting, applying for a plan that does require a medical test, or quitting are the easier options that won’t put your benefits at risk.