Tobacco and life insurance explained

Smokers present a high risk for life insurance providers. You can still get life insurance as a smoker, but you should expect to pay a lot more for coverage. © fotostorm/Getty Images A man and a woman are out at a cafe. The man is holding a cigarette between his […]

Smokers present a high risk for life insurance providers. You can still get life insurance as a smoker, but you should expect to pay a lot more for coverage.

a person sitting at a table eating food: A man and a woman are out at a cafe. The man is holding a cigarette between his fingers.

© fotostorm/Getty Images
A man and a woman are out at a cafe. The man is holding a cigarette between his fingers.

The CDC estimates that 34 million adults in the U.S. smoke cigarettes, and every day about 200 adults pick up a daily smoking habit. So if you’re a smoker looking for a life insurance policy, you’re definitely not alone. However, if you want a life insurance policy at a lower rate, you’ll probably have to quit smoking and stay smoke-free for a year.


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Let’s take a look at which types of tobacco life insurance companies look for, how long tobacco stays in your system and what you should consider when applying for a life insurance policy as a smoker.

Types of tobacco that life insurance companies care about

To get life insurance, nicotine tests are common. But life insurance companies don’t just test for nicotine. Cotinine is an alkaloid found in the body after nicotine is metabolized, so it’s an indicator for nicotine use. So if you’re wondering about a cotinine test, life insurance providers will probably look for it.

Life insurance companies care about all types of tobacco use, including:


Life insurance underwriting classifies applicants as being either a tobacco risk or non-tobacco risk. Smokers who use cigarettes regularly are considered high risk to insure, so you’ll definitely be classified as a tobacco risk if you apply for life insurance as a cigarette smoker.


If you only smoke cigars irregularly, some life insurance providers might cut you a break. But you can only smoke a few cigars a year. And many life insurers won’t make a distinction between occasional cigar use and regular cigarette use.


Life insurance providers generally don’t separate vaping from regular cigarette smoking. If you use e-cigarette or vaping products, expect that the provider will designate you a smoker, just like if you used traditional tobacco.

Smoking cessation products

Products that help you quit smoking like nicotine gum and nicotine patches still leave traces of cotinine in your body. So if you use these products, you’ll still probably be classified as a tobacco risk, even though there’s no tobacco in the products.

Types of tobacco use that life insurance companies test for

When you apply for life insurance, smoker tests are the industry standard. Although tobacco is the main concern of life insurance, tobacco tests usually aren’t the best way to tell if someone is a smoker. Instead, providers can test for cotinine.

Here’s what life insurance companies test for:

Tobacco-based nicotine products

All tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco are considered high risk factors for life insurance providers. If you use any of these products, even occasionally, then you’ll probably be placed in the tobacco-user risk class, which means your premiums will be much higher than they would if you didn’t smoke.

Nicotine products without tobacco

Life insurance providers usually test for cotinine. So even if you use nicotine products without tobacco, you’ll still probably be placed in the tobacco user risk class. In the eyes of life insurance providers, E-cigarettes, nicotine gum and nicotine patches are still considered products that put you at risk for tobacco use.

How long tobacco stays in your system

Testing for tobacco relies on a sample of your blood, urine, saliva or hair. Depending on the sample used for the test, nicotine can usually be detected for a few weeks after use. However, nicotine use can occasionally be detected up to a year later with a hair test. So if you’re wondering how long nicotine stays in your system, you should keep in mind that it could last for up to 12 months.

To be considered a non-smoker for life insurance purposes, providers usually want you to be smoke-free for a year. Even if you’ve quit months ago and don’t think the insurance company will be able to detect anything in your system, you should never lie about your smoking habits or when you quit.

If you lie about your tobacco use and the provider finds out, then claims on your life insurance policy will be denied, which could put your loved ones in financial jeopardy. Lying to a life insurance provider about your tobacco use could also be seen as fraud, which could come with legal ramifications. So the best policy is always to be completely honest on all health questions in the life insurance application process.

The cost of tobacco use on life insurance

According to the CDC, tobacco use is the leading cause of “preventable disease, disability and death.” Furthermore, smoking-related illness is estimated to cost society more than $300 billion every year. Life insurance providers are well aware of this, and they price their policies accordingly.

If you’re a smoker applying for life insurance, you can expect to pay two to three times more for a health insurance policy than a non-smoker pays. However, there are some “smoker-friendly” insurance companies who might be willing to work with you on premium rates.

How former tobacco users can get the same rates as non-users

When you sign up for a new life insurance policy, the provider will probably ask if you’ve used nicotine in the last 12 months. So to be considered as a non-smoker for life insurance, you’ll need to be nicotine-free for at least a year.

If you already have a life insurance policy and you’ve quit smoking, then you can ask your provider for rate reconsideration. This requires another drug test. But you also have the option to search for a different provider and start fresh with a new non-smoker life insurance policy.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best life insurance company?

Life insurance is highly individualized, based on the health and age of the policyholder, as well as their financial situation and desired coverage. So the best life insurance company for one person might not be the best for another. Take a look at our best life insurance companies to see which provider will work best for you.

Does secondhand smoke affect nicotine tests for life insurance?

According to the CDC, secondhand smoke has the ability to cause health issues. Whether or not it affects your insurance rates depends on the amount of exposure. Secondhand smoke exposure can be detected using a cotinine test, so it’s possible that secondhand smoke could result in a provider classifying you as a tobacco user.

How long do I need to quit to pass a nicotine test for life insurance?

Depending on the test and frequency of use, it’s possible to pass a nicotine test after you’re smoke-free for a few weeks. However, many life insurance providers will only classify you as a non-user after you’ve quit for a year. So if you want a lower life insurance premium, the best bet is to quit for a full 12 months before applying for a policy.

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