What happens if you start smoking after you buy life insurance?
It’s logical to conclude your life insurance company may have an issue with this. Smokers are charged higher monthly premiums given the health risks that come with tobacco use.
As a policyholder with an existing life insurance policy, what are your responsibilities to your life insurer if you pick up a smoking habit post-purchase?
Will you face higher premiums? Will your policy be void if you start smoking?
We’ll tackle these questions and more in this article. Let’s dive in.
Why Do Life Insurers Care About Tobacco Use?
There are few things that lower your life expectancy as much as tobacco use.
According to the CDC, over 16 million Americans currently live with a disease caused by smoking. Smoking causes lung cancer, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, COPD, emphysema, and heart disease, among many other health conditions.
On top of this, secondhand smoke leads to ~41,000 deaths in non-smoker adults and 400 deaths in infants each year.
As a result, life insurance companies will be eager to understand your smoking history, and, if you applied for a medium-to-large policy (> $50,000), most companies will require a medical exam.
Whether whole life or term, life insurance for smokers will always be more expensive than the equivalent policy issued to a non-smoker. However, this has nothing to do with corporate social responsibility or the preferences of Company leadership.
Given how much smoking increases your mortality risk, life insurance companies have to charge you higher “smoker rates” to compensate for this risk.
How Smoking Affects Life Insurance
There are many different ways to consume tobacco, some worse for your health than others, some more addictive than others.
What gives someone a smoker rating for life insurance purposes? After all, there are many more ways to use tobacco and nicotine than to smoke cigarettes.
What Counts As "Smoking"?
Smoking involves the use of tobacco products or nicotine products, which can include:
- Smoking Cigarettes
- Chewing tobacco
- E-cigarettes and vapes (nicotine use only)
How Life Insurers Check For Tobacco Use
Each life insurance company has its own underwriting model, driven by unique factors and weightings of these factors. However, in all cases, life insurers first screen for tobacco use on the application.
Smoking Questions On The Application
In the below screenshot, you’ll find the smoking-related question on Bestow’s term life insurance application (Bestow is a digital life insurance agency):
Bestow’s smoking policy is fairly standard. Most insurance companies consider someone a smoker is they have used tobacco-related products within the past 12 months.
However, most make an exception for an occasional celebratory cigar, which they define as no more than 12 cigars within a 12 moth period.
Smoking Detection During The Medical Exam
After the initial screening on the application, most life insurance companies require a medical exam before approving an application and issuing a policy.
The exam will include a urine test or blood test to check for the presence of cotinine, a nicotine byproduct. Cotinine remains in urine for three days and in blood for much longer (up to a month) after you stop smoking.
Medical exams are a much more reliable way of both (1) identifying smokers and (2) distinguishing between occasional users vs. those with heavy smoking habits.
Does Smoking Void A Life Insurance Policy?
Your life insurer is betting on your life, literally.
When insurers issue a policy, they are wagering that the insured will stay alive through the term of your policy.
The longer you live, the longer you’ll be making premium payments to them (and not requiring them to make a payout).
Likewise, anything you do that lowers your odds of survival is a negative for them. And if your odds decrease enough, your premiums may not be enough to compensate them for the risk of paying out a death benefit to your beneficiaries.
Your Responsibilities (If You Start Smoking)
So what happens if you start smoking after you buy a life insurance policy?
The answer may surprise you.
Smoking will not void your life insurance coverage nor can your insurance company make changes to it (e.g., re-classifying you as a smoker and charging you higher premiums).
Your policy and your life insurance company’s obligations to you are 100% unchanged.
A Financial Services Policy That's Consumer-Friendly?
Some people find this hard to believe. After all, how often do you meet a pro-consumer financial services policy?
Remember, you technically increase and decrease your chances of survival in millions of small ways every day.
If you eat more than the recommended amount of sodium in a day, you increase your chances of future health issues by a minuscule amount. If you drive down the street without wearing your seat belt one morning, you take a slightly greater risk of not surviving your ride (vs. if you had worn your seat belt).
Consumer Habit Change Is Just Another Risk
So the company takes on a lot of risks when they insured you.
And the odds that you would change your lifestyle was in itself a variable!
Just like the many other choices you make without your life insurance company’s knowledge or approval, you are 100% free to choose to start smoking.
Your life insurance company cannot void your policy, nor can they change your premiums or benefits. Even if your death is blatantly smoking-related, they cannot deny your claim, and they will still pay out your entire death benefit.
Smoking & Life Insurance: Additional FAQs
Before we wrap up, we’ll cover a few of the most Googled questions on the impact of smoking on life insurance.
If you are sincerely smoke-free when you are approved for your policy, but become a tobacco user after you purchase your policy, your insurance company cannot void your policy nor can they make any changes to it (like increasing your premiums).
There is only one way an insurance claim can be denied for smoking. And that is if you falsely claim to be a nonsmoker on your life insurance application. If it is later discovered in your autopsy that you died of a smoking-related illness, then the insurance company will have cause to deny your claim.
It wouldn’t be wise to lie about your smoking habit while buying a policy. For one, most insurers require a medical exam, which will test for nicotine in your urine and blood. Second, if you claim to be a nonsmoker on your application, but your autopsy ultimately shows that you died of a smoking-related illness, your insurance company can deny your beneficiary’s claim for your death benefit payout.
This begs the question: what about the opposite case? What happens to your policy and your premiums if you quit smoking? Will your life insurance company change your smoker rating and lower your premiums to the non-smoker rate because you stopped smoking?
Unfortunately, once a policy is issued, your premiums cannot be changed. Therefore, unless you terminate your policy and purchase a new one, you won’t be able to escape the higher premiums you face.
Although finance companies usually stack things in their favor, this question proves that that’s not always the case.
All the more reason to know your rights and policy details when it comes to financial products.
If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send us an email at email@example.com.
The GetSure Team