When you apply for a life insurance policy, inevitably, one of the first questions the application will ask is whether you smoke or use tobacco products.
Fabric’s term life insurance quote, for example, asks five questions before giving you an initial estimate—and one of them is whether you use tobacco.
It’s common knowledge that smoking increases the likelihood of several different cancers, heart disease, stroke and other serious health conditions. According to the CDC, the lifespan of someone who smokes is typically about 10 years shorter than that of someone who doesn’t.
The amount you’ll pay for term life insurance ultimately depends on the likelihood that you’ll pass away during the term or time period for which you’re covered. So it makes sense that smoking is a relevant factor when underwriters figure out whether they can offer you a policy and at what price.
Pretty much across the board, regardless of your insurer, you’re going to pay a higher premium if you smoke or use tobacco products.
For example, at Fabric, a 30-year-old woman living in Michigan who doesn’t smoke and is in generally good health can expect to pay around $19 per month. That’s for $250,000 of coverage over a 15-year term life insurance policy.
That same woman, if she smoked, could expect to pay almost $43 for the same policy. And the difference in rates only gets steeper as you get older.
Different insurers approach smoking policies differently. “The life insurance industry tends to have a long memory when it comes to nicotine products, but each company is different,” Alex Enabnit, a licensed life insurance agent at TermLife2Go, says.
He says, “One company may consider an applicant a nonsmoker if they’ve avoided nicotine for 12 months. Another company may not award a nonsmoking status to an applicant until they’ve gone five years without nicotine.” Nicotine products, in their view, can include patches and gum used to quit smoking, too.
Some firms have a strict no-tolerance policy for all tobacco and nicotine products, while others allow policyholders to smoke a few cigars a year while maintaining their nonsmoking status. Many providers have different tiers of smoking/non-smoking policies, in which the more time that has elapsed since you quit, the cheaper your rate will be.
For example, policies sold by Fabric use the following rate tiers, including one specifically for tobacco users:
Ultra Select: Excellent health and family history, no tobacco use within five years, low-risk lifestyle.
Select Plus: Very good health and family history, no tobacco use within three years, low-risk lifestyle.
Select: Good health and family history, no tobacco use within two years, low-risk lifestyle.
Standard: Acceptable health and family history, no tobacco use within one year, moderate-risk lifestyle.
Tobacco User: Acceptable health and family history, tobacco use within a year, moderate-risk lifestyle.
These distinctions can leave people who smoke, especially those who are trying or planning on trying to quit, in a bit of a pickle.
For a tobacco and nicotine user who hasn’t quite quit yet, there are a few competing factors at play that could influence a decision about when to apply for life insurance:
Smoking rates are almost always significantly higher than non-smoking rates, so people who are trying to quit may be tempted to wait until they’ve quit for a certain period of time so they can get lower rates.
The younger you are, the lower your rate typically is, so smokers may be inclined to get life insurance sooner than later, despite the fact that they’ll get smoking rates.
Most people experience improved health pretty shortly after quitting. So in some cases it might make sense to apply for life insurance a few months after quitting, because although you’ll still have to pay a smoker’s rate, your improved health could knock down the cost a bit.
“The major health risks that can arise from smoking, such as the potential for heart disease or stroke, can take longer to subside,” Enabnit says. So while you might see some benefits just a few months after quitting, “this is why insurers will still charge smoking rates, even if your last cigarette was two months ago. They want the lagging risks of tobacco use to be fully gone before they issue nonsmoking rates.”
When weighing these options, Enabnit encourages people who smoke to remember that the longer they’ve gone without nicotine, the better their rate will be.
“A 50-year old smoker will pay triple the premium as a 52-year-old who quit cold turkey two years ago,” he says. “So, in most cases, quitting smoking counteracts the premium increases you’d naturally see from aging.”
Still ... what if you put off applying for insurance because you keep planning to quit, but you don't? Or you relapse? You’re likely better off getting insurance now rather than waiting for a day that might take longer than you anticipate to come.
“Although it’s tempting to put off buying life insurance until you’re perfectly healthy, it’s better to get covered sooner—you never know what might happen, or if you could experience health complications that render you uninsurable,” Enabnit says.
Applying for a policy now, when you’re the youngest you’re ever going to be, could give you the best chance at locking in coverage for the next 10, 15 or 20 years, rather than counting on quitting if you haven’t already. Even at a higher smoker’s premium, you might find that the peace of mind could be well worth it.
Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.
Fabric by Gerber Life exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.
Information provided is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, financial, legal, or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. We make no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use, and disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information.
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