How Much Smoking Makes You a “Smoker” to Life Insurance Companies?


In a previous post, we already discussed the effects of smoking on life insurance premiums. But in this article, we’re going to discuss the more basic question of how much smoking makes you a smoker to life insurance companies.

This isn’t a small issue either. When people apply for life insurance, they typically minimize how much they smoke, often to the point of classifying themselves as non-smokers. For example, a person may consider himself to be a non-smoker, because he only smokes on weekends. In his own mind, the fact that he doesn’t smoke Monday through Friday means that he isn’t a smoker.

Rest assured that a life insurance company will take a very different view of even minimal use of tobacco.

A Life Insurance Company’s View of a “Smoker”

A standard question on every life insurance application is “have you used tobacco or nicotine in the last 12 (or 24, 36, 48, or 60) months?” Now notice the way that question is worded – it’s an unqualified question that forces you to say yes for even the most minimal use of tobacco, or to lie and hope they never find out.

A “yes” answer from you will automatically classify you as a smoker for life insurance purposes.

As far as the insurance company is concerned, if you’ve only smoked a few cigarettes in the time period covered, you’ll be considered a smoker. The frequency with which you smoke will only matter as far as which smoker rates you are assigned. But a “yes” answer for any degree of tobacco usage will classify you as a smoker.

This is where the life insurance industry and the typical person on the street don’t see eye-to-eye. While the average person recognizes a difference between an occasional smoker, and a full-blown smoker, the life insurance industry does not make the same distinction. If you smoked just a few cigarettes in the past year, a life insurance company will consider you to be a smoker.

Can You Pull-Off the Big Lie?

Anything is possible of course, including attempting to deceive an insurance company in regard to your use of tobacco. But there will be consequences if the habit is discovered at a later date.

Failure to disclose a significant health condition is considered to be insurance fraud, and there a few possible outcomes should that be the case. At the extreme, you could face criminal prosecution. More commonly, the life insurance company can void the policy upon discovery of your undisclosed habit.

It is even possible – and completely legal – for an insurance company to deny paying your insurance to your beneficiaries upon your death, if it can be determined that your death was in any way caused by tobacco usage that you failed to disclose. The insurance company could simply refund the amount of your life insurance premiums to your beneficiaries, but not provide any funds as part of the face value of the policy.

They can even terminate your policy without warning if subsequent medical tests reveal that you are in fact a smoker, when you indicated that you weren’t. Tobacco usage can easily be determined from a simple urine test.

Tobacco usage is too easy to determine to even consider the possibility of failing to disclose it. It’s far better to admit to your tobacco habit, and obtain the best policy that you can get based on that reality.

What If You Quit Smoking?

Life insurance companies do actually have a favorable response to the prospect of you quitting smoking. Some companies will even rate you preferred plus if you can demonstrate that you have been tobacco free for certain for a certain period of time, which is generally at least two or three years.

Some will require that you actually participate in a smoker cessation plan, which will provide the documentation needed to establish the fact that you are now a former smoker. And this is a far better route to take than trying to cover up the fact that you’re a smoker.

Best Course of Action For the Smoker: Choose Your Life Insurance Company Carefully

Unfortunately, most people are in no position to know which companies are the most likely to approve a smoker for life insurance, and at the lowest possible premium. You have two choices in this regard:

  1. Apply to a bunch of life insurance companies, so that you can find out who the best ones are for smokers, or
  2. You can work with an experienced insurance broker who already has that information, and can place your application only with companies who like smokers – and they are out there!

Applying to a bunch of life insurance companies takes time and effort, and it can also tie up your money since they typically want you to provide the initial premium along with the application. So you really have only one attractive choice, and that’s to work with a good insurance broker.

We can help you with that. We work with many life insurance companies, and know who the ones who will take the most favorable view of smokers. Let us help you get your life insurance, and that will save you time, money, and the aggravation of facing declined applications. Put our knowledge to work for you!