Low life insurance rates go to nonsmokers. How long until you’re considered one?
As a smoker, looking for health insurance can be frustrating. Life insurance companies typically classify smokers as higher-risk applicants, and they’ll most likely charge you higher premiums.
One solution is to simply quit smoking. However, that’s easier said than done.
Here’s how long you’ll need to wait until nicotine fully leaves your system, opening up the possibility of passing your provider’s test.
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How long can I expect nicotine to show up on a test?
For a typical life insurance policy, your insurer will ask you to see a medical professional for a health assessment. Part of that assessment is likely a nicotine test to confirm whether you smoke.
You might be wondering whether you can simply quit smoking for a while until nicotine leaves your body. That way, you could breeze through the nicotine exam.
That plan isn’t guaranteed to work because it takes a while for nicotine to leave your system. While it takes at least three days for nicotine to leave your blood, providers test for another compound — cotinine — that’s formed after nicotine enters your body. Cotinine can stay in your body for up to three weeks or longer.
Providers use different tests to determine whether you have nicotine or cotinine in your system. Some are more sensitive than others, measuring the concentration of compounds in your system to determine whether you’re a smoker or simply live with one.
Types of nicotine tests
For a typical test, a medical professional takes a bodily sample to test for nicotine or cotinine. Here are four tests you might encounter.
- Urine test. The most common, this test is used to gauge cotinine levels, detecting nicotine for up to a week after it was absorbed into your bloodstream.
- Saliva test. Less common, a saliva test can detect nicotine over a longer period of time. Your medical professional may ask you to take this in conjunction with the urine test for more accurate results.
- Hair test. A highly accurate test, this one’s expensive. Your insurer may ask you to take it only in special circumstances. It can detect nicotine one to three months after you’ve stopped smoking — and sometimes longer.
- Blood test. Very rarely, your insurer will ask you to take a blood test. It’s extremely accurate as long as it’s given within its detection window — one to three days for nicotine and one to 10 days for cotinine.
Nicotine may stay in your system longer depending on your age, your health, how long you’ve been smoking and other factors.
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Why test for nicotine?
Like all businesses, life insurance companies are designed to make a profit. They can’t escape basic math: They have to pull in more money than they lose.
Let’s say an insurer collects $20 million in premiums for the year. If it pays out claims that year totaling less than that amount, it makes a profit. If it pays out more than $20 million, it’s in the red — a net loss.
That’s a constant concern for life insurance companies — considering how much they should charge in premiums, balancing that with the likelihood they’ll have to pay out death benefits.
What is a death benefit?
“A death benefit is the money paid out by a life insurance policy when a policyholder dies. This money is paid to the policy’s beneficiaries — or the people designated to receive the death benefit.”
The biggest question a life insurer considers is the likelihood a policyholder will die. Providers calculate this likelihood using multiple health and lifestyle factors.
Advanced age is just one — older people are statistically more likely to pass away. So are people who have cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol or dangerous hobbies.
The same goes for smokers, whose average life expectancies can be some 10 years shorter than nonsmokers.
Insurance companies typically administer nicotine tests to identify those who use tobacco products, and they often charge these individuals higher premiums.
No-medical-exam life insurance
What if your life insurance provider doesn’t require a medical exam? Couldn’t you get a policy without having to admit you’re a smoker?
You might find a policy called no-exam life insurance. Unfortunately, these policies may still require you to complete a questionnaire about your health.
That includes whether you smoke — and it’s best to tell the truth.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t buy no-exam insurance to hide the fact that you’re a smoker. More likely, you’d buy it because you’re in poor health and have difficulty getting a policy that requires a medical exam.
With no-medical-exam insurance, your premiums are often higher because your insurer has less information about your health to work with. Also, there’s a good chance your death benefit will be less than $100,000.
No-medical-exam life insurance providers
|Medical exam required?||Medical records from doctor required?||Coverage|
|5 Star Life Insurance Company||None for policies of $150,000 and under.||No||$10,000–$100,000|
|American National||No||May be required||$50,000–$250,000|
|Assurity||No||May be required||$50,000–$350,000|
|Fidelity Life||No||No||Up to $250,000|
|North American Company||No||No||$50,000–$500,000|
|Phoenix||No||May be required||$50,000–$500,000|
|Transamerica||No||May be required||$25,000–$249,999|
|Mutual of Omaha||None for policies under $250,000.||May be required||$50,000–$250,000|
|Lincoln Financial Group||No, generally — but depends on your health profile||May be required||$100,000–$500,000|
How upfront should I be about my nicotine use?
It’s understandable to want the lowest premium possible. But it’s always a good idea to tell the truth about your smoking.
First, it’s illegal to lie about your smoking when applying for life insurance. And second, you don’t want the awkward situation of a nicotine test giving you away after you’ve said you were tobacco-free.
One of the biggest reasons to be truthful, however, is because it could affect your beneficiaries. If your insurer later discovers that you were a smoker when you claimed you weren’t, it could deny paying out your death claim benefit to the loved ones you’ve designated to receive it.
Alternatively, your insurer could choose to pay the death benefit that your premium payments would have purchased at the smoker’s rate.
Do “celebratory cigars” affect my health insurance premium?
As the term implies, a celebratory cigar is a cigar you smoke on a special occasion — for example, at a wedding or New Year’s party. If you puff a cigar once in a while, you might wonder whether that makes you a smoker to your insurer.
Some insurers will give you the smoker’s rate if you consume cigars. However, others will classify you as a “non–tobacco user” as long as you smoke under a specified number of cigars a month. For some companies, that’s one a month.
Insurers like ING and AIG tend to offer low rates to people who admit to smoking celebratory cigars. As always, compare quotes among insurers to find the best rate. You may find that an insurer offers a better rate for your age and health.
Is there a way to guarantee I’ll pass a nicotine test?
Unfortunately, the only way to guarantee passing is to quit smoking.
Let us remind you: Quitting your nicotine habit before applying for life insurance does not mean that you’ll pass a nicotine test. Your ability to pass depends on many factors that include your health, how long you’ve been smoking, your smoking frequency and your overall diet.
If you’re committed to staying tobacco-free, you might be able to help your body rid itself of nicotine and cotinine faster by embracing a few key changes to your diet and lifestyle.
For example, consuming Vitamin C can help flush nicotine from your bloodstream. Plus, eating more fruits and vegetables might help decrease your cravings for cigarettes. Broccoli, spinach, kiwis and oranges are fine choices.
Can I test my own nicotine levels?
Yes. You can buy nicotine test kits to use at home. They’re fairly easy to use, because they just need samples of your urine. They also tend to be fairly inexpensive.
Though home test kits may not give you a definitive reading, they can give you more confidence that a medical exam won’t detect nicotine in your system.
What if I don’t pass a nicotine test?
If you have a strong feeling you won’t pass a nicotine test, consider applying later. If you can manage, waiting a month or more will greatly increase your odds of passing a nicotine test. That increases your chances of a better health profile.
You’re never obligated to purchase a life insurance policy. So if you do take the health exam and you’re classified as a smoker, you can pass and buy insurance when you’re more certain your body is clean.
Buying insurance as a smoker can be frustrating because insurers are more likely to charge you higher premiums. There’s little you can do about that if you keep receiving the “smoker” classification.
However, you can wait to apply when you have a better health profile. By consuming food and beverages high in vitamin C, you can flush out nicotine quicker. And if you’re unsure about your ability to pass a nicotine test, you can buy home test kits to increase your confidence. To find out more, read our guide on life insurance for smokers.