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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.

Updated

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.

Why do insurers charge smokers higher rates?

Smoking is linked to a lower life expectancy and a host of health issues, like respiratory problems and lung cancer. There’s a higher chance your insurer will have to pay out your policy, so they compensate for that risk by raising rates for smokers.

As a smoker, you’ll never be able to reach an insurer’s “preferred” rate class — but it’s important not to lie on your application.

How will my life insurance provider know if I smoke?

When you apply for traditional life insurance, your insurer may require a medical exam.

During the exam, a medical professional will take bodily samples to test for nicotine or cotinine — a nicotine byproduct which stays in your blood after nicotine has left your system. 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.

Along with cigarettes, the nicotine test can reveal whether you use chewing tobacco, nicotine gum, nicotine patches and other smoking cessation products.

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

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What if I quit cold turkey before the exam?

If you stop smoking several weeks before your medical exam, there’s a chance your nicotine test will come back negative.

Either way, it’s essential to be honest about the date you quit smoking. If you stopped recently, you may not be able to access the lowest rates. But if you lie about your smoking habits and your insurer later finds out, you run the risk of denying your loved ones the death benefit.

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. If you’re caught lying:

  • Your insurer may not pay out your policy If you die and the life insurance company finds out you were a regular smoker through an autopsy or other investigation, it could deny your beneficiaries the death benefit — which means they won’t receive any money.
  • The payout could be delayed. If you pass away within the first two years of your policy — a.k.a. the contestability period — your insurer has the right to investigate the claim. They may delay the death benefit or deny it altogether.
  • You may need to pay a surcharge. If your insurer finds out that you’re a smoker while you’re alive, they can either cancel your coverage or and charge you for the higher rate you should’ve been paying all along.
  • You might be 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 or community service.

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?

Depending on your insurer, you may need to prove you’ve been nicotine-free for one to three years before asking for a rate reconsideration. Your insurer will ask you to take another medical exam, and if it comes back clean, they could lower your premium.

The other option is shopping around for a new policy. Once you’re no longer classified as a smoker, rates will become 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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