Do I have to tell my life insurance provider that I smoke?

Being honest could hike rates, but will protect your beneficiaries in the long run.

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While it may be painful to watch life insurance rates rise when you check “yes” for smoking, being transparent helps ensure your policy isn’t thrown out as fraudulent after a lifetime of payments.

How will my life insurance provider know if I smoke?

When you apply for life insurance, the provider typically asks for a medical exam to check your overall health.

At the exam, the medical professional will take bodily samples to test for nicotine or cotinine in your blood. Most common is a urine test, which can detect nicotine from up to a week ago. But they may also check your saliva, hair, or blood, which can trace nicotine that’s been in your system for weeks or longer.

In other words, if you claim to be a nonsmoker in your application, the medical exam will confirm or deny it.

What happens if I’m caught lying on my application?

Though it may be tempting to bend the truth to get a cheaper policy, lying on a life insurance application is considered fraud. It’s in your best interest to confront the reality of life insurance for smokers head-on. The consequences if you’re caught lying could include:

  • Your beneficiaries being denied. If you die and the life insurance company finds out you were a regular smoker through an autopsy or other investigation, it could deny the payout claim completely.
  • The need to pay back surcharges. If the insurance company finds out that you’re a smoker in the midst of the policy term, they’ll probably cancel it and could even charge you for the higher rate you should’ve been paying all along.
  • Being charged with a misdemeanor. Misrepresenting your smoking habits on an application is classified as soft fraud, which is typically viewed as a misdemeanor before the law. Possible consequences include probation, community service or jail time.

Do I have to disclose if I start smoking after getting life insurance?

Yes. While it’s not technically considered fraudulent since you weren’t smoking at the time of application, smoking at all within the duration of the policy puts your benefits at risk. If you die of a smoking-related illness and it’s revealed in an autopsy, the insurer can void your claim.

What if I stop smoking after signing up?

If you stop smoking after signing a policy, most providers will recategorize you as a nonsmoker as long as you’ve kicked the habit for at least a year. And they might ask you to undergo a medical exam to prove it. If you pass, your provider will likely lower your premiums.

However, depending on the terms of your current policy, it may be worth shopping the market again. Once you’re smoke free, other quotes will likely be more competitive.

Are e-cigarettes treated the same as traditional tobacco products?

E-cigarettes are viewed similarly to tobacco products in the eyes of most life insurance companies. Not only do they contain nicotine, but recent studies have also found toxins in e-cigarette vapor that cause what the American Lung Association refers to as “irreversible lung damage.” So naturally, life insurance companies are skeptical when it comes to e-cigarette usage. Expect higher premiums in most cases.

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Bottom line

Finding life insurance can be frustrating if you’re a smoker, but protecting the ones you love in the long run means being honest upfront about your habits. Still, it’s a free market and comparing policies apples-to-apples can help you find the most competitive rates in light of your situation.

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