Smokers pay at least double for life insurance, but you can expect lower rates if you decide to quit

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  • Because of the health risks associated with nicotine and tobacco, smokers pay double in life insurance premiums compared to non-smokers.
  • However, life insurance companies treat tobacco and cannabis use differently.
  • If you plan to quit smoking, an annual renewal term life insurance policy might be better until you can get rates as a non-smoker.
  • If you are having a hard time getting life insurance as a smoker, consider no medical exam life insurance.
  • Policygenius can help you compare life insurance policies to find the right coverage for you, at the right price »

If you smoke tobacco or cannabis, vape, or chew tobacco, you will pay more for life insurance. 

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, "16 million Americans are living with a smoking-related disease…[and] smoking-attributable healthcare spending exceeds $170 billion per year."

Life insurance premiums are based on your health risk for insurance providers. The effect of nicotine on health is well documented, so smokers are seen as a higher risk for life insurance companies.

If you are a smoker, expect higher rates than a non-smoker. If you plan to quit smoking or are in the process of quitting, annual renewal term life insurance is better than a traditional term life insurance while you're kicking the habit. Another option for smokers is no medical exam life insurance.

What is life insurance?

Life insurance is a contract between you and the life insurance company where you pay premiums (monthly or annually) for a payout that your living relatives will receive, known as the death benefit. Should you die, the insurance company pays the death benefit to your chosen beneficiary.

There are two types of life insurance: whole (permanent) life and term life. Whole life insurance lasts the rest of your life, but it's significantly more expensive because in addition to a death benefit, it has a cash value component that you can borrow against during your lifetime.

Term life insurance covers a set time period only, usually 10 to 30 years. If you die during that period, your beneficiaries get your death benefit. Term life is the type most often recommended to healthy people with dependents because of its relatively low cost.

Life insurance premiums are based on your health risk

The underwriting process is how the insurance company determines your insurability — how much of a risk you are and how much to lend you. The underwriting process collects information about your health (medical history), job, income, finances, and other personal information. Traditional life insurance policies require a medical exam, which includes the collection of a blood and urine sample, as part of the underwriting process. 

Because nicotine negatively affects health and impacts life expectancy, smokers are seen as a higher risk for life insurance providers. Insurance premiums are higher for smokers than for non-smokers. Generally, life insurance is cheaper the younger and healthier you are. If you are older and a smoker, you will have higher insurance premiums than a younger smoker.

What counts as smoking for life insurance companies?

Rates for smokers vary by life insurance company and based on the type of tobacco use — smoking, chewing, or vaping —  as well as the length and duration of usage, according to Jackie Morales, chief insurance officer at Bestow Life.

Life insurance companies have nicotine-related questions on the initial quote process. Morales said it is best to give information applicable to where you are at right now. If you stop smoking in future, then you can review coverage for non-smoking rates. 

Morales noted that marijuana questions are asked separately. She noted that ten years ago, marijuana would have prevented coverage, but now most life insurance companies accept cannabis users. However, she recommends giving accurate information on your usage  — medical or recreational. 

It is important to be truthful answering these questions because if you are not and you die, your death benefit can be denied to your beneficiary for failing to fully disclose the extent of your smoking habit.

Life insurance rates for smokers versus non-smokers

Below are some quotes that show the difference in rates for tobacco smokers and non-smokers.

AgeGenderTerm/Coverage AmountNon-smoker Monthly PremiumSmoker* monthly premium
35Female20-year, $250,000$14.58$35.83
35Male20-year, $250,000$16.66$57.71
35Female20-year, $500,000$22.50$68.33
35Male20-year, $500,000$27.50$102.08

*Tobacco users — rates may be different for cannabis users

Based on data provided by Bestow Life

If you're quitting smoking, consider annual renewable term life insurance

Mark Williams, CEO of Brokers International, told Business Insider that if you are in the process of quitting smoking, annual renewal term life insurance may be the cheaper option until you qualify for non-smoker rates on traditional term life insurance.

Annual renewable term life insurance is short-term coverage. A one-year policy is relatively cheap compared to a traditional term life policy. It is renewed at the end of each year, and your premium usually increases as you age. Although your premium may increase each year based on your age, you will not have to have a medical exam every time you renew, according to Fidelity Life.

Annual renewable term life insurance is supposed to be short-term coverage. Eventually, you should switch to a traditional term life policy once you become a non-smoker because you will ultimately end up paying more for a renewable term life policy than for a traditional term life policy.

Smokers can get life insurance that doesn't require a medical exam

People with certain pre-existing health conditions may be ineligible for traditional life insurance. In this situation, no medical exam life insurance is an option. Although there is no medical exam for this type of coverage, there is usually a health questionnaire. 

Not knowing your medical history means the insurance company is taking a gamble on your health. The benefit of no medical exam life insurance is that acceptance is typically guaranteed. The drawbacks are limited coverage amounts — usually up to $100,000 — and there may be a waiting period for death benefits to payout. 

According to ColonialPenn, some simplified issue no medical exam life insurance policies have a two-year waiting period, meaning that if the policyholder dies within the first two years of having coverage, the policy won't pay out.

How to find life insurance if you're a smoker

Life insurance carriers charge smokers more than non-smokers, but some carriers do not treat cannabis or marijuana use the same as tobacco and nicotine use. Therefore, it is best to shop around for quotes to find the best option for your situation. If you're a smoker, there will be more questions during the application process. 

Bestow Life offers online quotes. Your insurance agent for auto or homeowners may offer life insurance. Also, you can comparison-shop online for term life insurance providers.

You can find policies through these insurers, or through online agencies, which are backed by major insurance companies. Online agencies let you bypass the need for an in-person insurance agent, and often offer the ability to get a quote and buy your own policy entirely online. 

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