Does Smoking Void A Life Insurance Policy In 2021?

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Does smoking affect life insurance? 

And there are very few things that lower your life expectancy as much as smoking does.

According to the CDC, over 16 million Americans currently live with a disease caused by smoking. Smoking causes 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 nonsmoking adults and 400 deaths in infants each year.

So before they sell you a policy, life insurers are eager to know about your smoking history. While both smoker and non-smokers can be approved for policies, smoker rates are generally much higher than nonsmoker rates.

After reading this guide, you should understand:

  • What qualifies someone as a “smoker”
  • How smoking affect life insurance approvals and prices
  • What insurance companies can and cannot do

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Smoking, For Life Insurance Purposes

There are many different ways to consume tobacco, some worse for your health than others, some more addictive than others.

What qualifies someone as a “smoker” in the eyes of an insurance company?

Should a chain-smoker who consumes two packs per day be regarded the same as someone who has one cigar when he sells the company he built for 50 years?

How Do Insurance Companies Learn about Your Smoking?

Each company’s underwriting policy is unique, so no two companies are guaranteed to have the same tobacco policy.

For Bestow Life Insurance, a digital life insurance agency, the question about smoking from their online application is shown below:

“In the past 12 months, have you used cigarettes, e-cigarettes, pipes, vapor products, snuff, chewing tobacco, nicotine gum, or nicotine patches.”

Bestow Health App_Smoking Question

Bestow’s 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

Beyond asking health questions in the exam, most life insurance companies require a medical exam.

The exam will include a urine test or blood test to check for the presence of cotinine, a nicotine byproduct, which remains in urine for three days and in blood for longer (up to a month).

Does Smoking Void A Life Insurance Policy?

So insurers certainly care to know if you smoke during the life insurance application process.

After all, they are betting on you.  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 death benefit payment).

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.

Does Smoking Void A Life Insurance Policy?​

The answer may surprise you.

Starting to smoke after you purchase a life insurance policy has no effect on your policy.

Your life insurance coverage cannot be voided nor can your insurance company make any changes to it (like re-classifying you as a smoker and charging you higher premiums).

It stays 100% the same.

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 A Risk They Take On

So your life insurance 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.

Question Round-Up

Before we wrap up, we’ll cover a few of the most Googled questions about smoking and life insurance.

If you are sincerely smoke-free when you are approved for life insurance, 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 life insurance. 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.

Conclusion

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 questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send us an email at hello@getsure.org.

Warm Regards,
The GetSure Team

RJ

RJ

RJ is the Founder & Head of Content at GetSure. He is a licensed life, accident & health insurance agent, with over 10 years of experience in the financial services industry. He holds a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from Columbia University and an MBA from The Stanford Graduate School of Business.
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