Life insurance for smokers

We explain why and how smoking or vaping can affect your life insurance premiums, how much quitting can save you and how to get cheaper cover.

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Cigarette smoking is on the decline in the UK. Official statistics say that 14.7% of over-18s smoked cigarettes in 2018, down from 20.2% in 2011.

But that decline has been offset by the swift rise of vaping and ecigarettes. And while it will come as no revelation to most that you’ll pay more for life insurance if you smoke cigarettes, you may be surprised to hear that most life insurers make no distinction between cigarettes and ecigarettes when they define a “smoker”.

Why do life insurers ask if you smoke?

Smoking is the root cause of many life-threatening health conditions, including lung cancer, heart disease and bronchitis. This means that smokers are more likely to make a life insurance claim and to do so at an earlier age.

Because insurers base their premiums on the risk of their customers needing to make a claim (and, in the case of life insurance, when they are likely to make the claim), they need to know about your smoking status to decide how much to charge you for life insurance.

How much more do smokers pay for life insurance?

All else being equal, information published by some leading life insurance providers suggests that smokers will typically pay double what non-smokers pay for life insurance.

The exact difference will vary by your circumstances, though. Older customers who smoke may pay proportionally more for life insurance than younger smokers.

The smoking penalty will also vary by insurer, so it’s worth shopping around to find the cheapest policy.

Has COVID-19 affected life insurance for smokers?

According to the World Health Organisation, there is a link between smoking and an increased risk of severe symptoms and death from COVID-19, although the level of increased risk has not yet been quantified.

For life insurance policies taken out before the COVID-19 outbreak, cover should not be affected. Policies should pay out as usual, including for deaths linked to coronavirus.

However, since the start of the pandemic, many life insurance providers have added new questions to their application forms to reflect the new risks posed by COVID-19. If you state you have coronavirus symptoms, you may be asked to postpone your application.

There may also be delays if you need to have a medical assessment before the insurer is able to offer cover. Requesting additional information from your GP is taking longer to do safely and may put undue pressure on the NHS right now.

There is currently no indication that insurers are generally ramping up premiums as a result of the coronavirus. However, there is a chance that those proven to be at higher risk from COVID-19 may find it harder to get life insurance cover or insurers may charge higher premiums while the pandemic continues. If a link between smoking and death from COVID-19 becomes more clear-cut, this could have an impact on premiums for smokers.

What counts as a smoker for life insurance?

When you’re applying for life insurance, you’ll have to fill in a questionnaire about your medical history and lifestyle.

Most insurers will simply ask whether you have used any nicotine products in the last 12 months. If the answer is yes, you are usually classed as a smoker.

Nicotine products can include cigarettes, cigars, pipes, ecigarettes and vapes, and even nicotine replacement products such as patches.

What if I only smoke occasionally?

Most life insurers are quite black and white about how they define a smoker and don’t differentiate between those who smoke a pack a day and those who only smoke socially once or twice a month.

So, even if you only pick up a cigarette or vape occasionally, you should still declare it.

A few insurers may ask more nuanced questions about how often you smoke that can affect how much you’ll pay, so if you only smoke rarely it could be worth seeking these out.

Do I need to tell a life insurer that I smoke?

Yes. It’s essential to be honest about your health and lifestyle when taking out a life insurance policy, otherwise you risk your entire policy being invalid.

So even if you only smoke occasionally or socially, be honest when you’re answering an insurer’s questions.

Do I need to tell a life insurer if I vape?

Yes, if you use products that contain nicotine. Vaping is typically seen as “less bad” than smoking, and this is supported by a 2020 report by Public Health England which says that “vaping regulated nicotine products has a small fraction of the risks of smoking”. However, the report adds that this does not mean that vaping is safe.

Because vaping is relatively new, and the long-term impact on health hasn’t yet been established, ecigarettes and vapes that contain nicotine are usually still regarded as smoking products by insurers.

If you use vapes or ecigarettes that don’t contain nicotine, you may not need to declare this; check with the insurer if you’re not sure, though.

Do I need to tell a life insurer if I used to smoke?

If the life insurer asks if you have used nicotine products in the last 12 months you must be honest about this, even if you have recently quit smoking.

In some cases, you may need to tell the insurer if you used to smoke longer ago than this.

Most insurers only have two categories: smoker (has used nicotine products within the last 12 months) and non-smoker (has not used nicotine products within the last 12 months).

However, some insurers have an additional layer, breaking risk categories down into:

  • Smoker: someone who has used nicotine products within last 12 months.
  • “Ex-smoker”: someone who quit using nicotine products between 12 months and (typically) 5 years ago.
  • Non-smoker: has not used nicotine products for (typically) 5 years or more.

Ex-smokers will be considered a higher risk than those who have never smoked, and so are likely to pay more for their life insurance, but a lower risk than current smokers.

What happens if I lie about smoking or vaping?

It may be tempting to “bend the truth” about your smoking habits, especially if you only smoke occasionally, but it’s not a good idea. Lying about your health status will almost certainly reduce the payout following a life insurance claim, and may mean your policy doesn’t pay out at all, especially if you die from a smoking-related condition.

Don’t assume your insurer will never find out. If a claim is made on your life insurance policy, the insurer may ask to see medical information, such as your medical records, which are likely to reveal your smoking history.

Will insurance providers conduct urine tests to prove I am telling the truth about not smoking?

Urine and saliva tests are not carried out as standard to check whether you’ve told the truth about smoking in your life insurance application, but it can happen – usually as part of fuller medical screening.

You are more likely to undergo medical screening if you have disclosed pre-existing medical conditions or a family history of medical issues that could increase your risk rating, or if you’re applying for a large amount of cover.

You may also be asked to take a test for smoking if you’ve said that you used to smoke.

What’s the best time to get life insurance as a smoker?

In general, the same rule applies to life insurance for smokers as it does for non-smokers; the younger you are when you take out a policy, the lower your premiums will be.

However, if you have recently quit smoking, or are currently trying to quit, you may choose to wait until you have been nicotine-free for 12 months. After 12 months without having used any nicotine products, many life insurers will classify you as a non-smoker and your premiums will drop significantly.

You’ll want to be confident you have the will-power to give up all nicotine before going down this route, otherwise you could find yourself unnecessarily delaying buying this important insurance.

Will my life insurance be cheaper if I quit smoking before I take it out?

Yes, but you’ll need to have quit using all nicotine products (including vaping and patches) for at least 12 months before taking out a policy. If you’ve used nicotine products within the last 12 months, life insurers will still regard you as a smoker.

That said, the sooner you quit, the sooner you are likely to see those premiums drop – and of course, there are lots of other reasons to give up smoking.

Will my life insurance premiums go down if I quit smoking after taking out my policy?

Possibly. You’ll need to get in touch with your life insurance provider and ask it to update your policy – many will reduce your rate, provided you’ve been nicotine-free for at least 12 months.

Your insurer may ask you to prove you’ve given up for good, for example, by asking you to take a saliva or urine test.

What type of life insurance should I get as a smoker?

The type of life insurance you buy should be primarily influenced by your personal needs, and not your health status. If you’re concerned about high costs, you can find out about the different types of life insurance and which types are typically more and less expensive in our guides to life insurance.

As well as increasing the risk of death, smoking also increases the risk of being seriously ill and unable to work. If you’re concerned about this, it could be worth considering critical illness cover alongside your life insurance.

Bottom line

Smoking, vaping or using nicotine products, even occasionally, can dramatically increase your life insurance premiums. But if you kick the habit for at least a year (before or after you take your policy out), and keep it up, you’ll typically make big savings. The smoking penalty varies between life insurers, so shop around and compare policies before you commit.

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