Last updated December 11, 2018
There are a number of different variables that affect your life insurance premiums. Things such as your age, policy riders, and the amount of insurance you are hoping to qualify for will obviously make a big difference because they directly affect how much and when the insurance company will pay out your policy. But beyond these numerical factors, there are several different ‘lifestyle’ factors that can change your monthly premiums as well.
Every life insurance company makes its long term decisions based off of perceived risks. If there is something about your life that makes it inherently riskier, the insurance company will assume they will have to pay out your policy sooner, and therefore, they will expect you to pay greater premiums in the meantime.
The lifestyle risks your insurance company will account for can include whether or not you have certain medical conditions, participate in certain extreme sports, have an active pilot’s license, and—perhaps most obvious of all—whether or not you use tobacco products. When all else is equal, tobacco users typically live shorter (and more expensive) lives, and pretty much every life insurance company is going to account for this in some way.
But while many life insurance companies have designed their tobacco use policies around people who regularly smoke cigarettes, there exist a number of different tobacco ‘alternatives’—cigars, smokeless tobacco, vaporized smoking—where the rules can be a bit less clear. When considering getting life insurance, be sure to ask your insurance agent about any rules that may apply to you.
What Does It Mean To Be A ‘Regular’ User?
If you smoke one cigar, for example, that is probably not going to label as a ‘regular’ tobacco user in the eyes of the insurance company for your entire life. But where do you draw the lines for what constitutes a regular user? How is the insurance company going to know if you qualify?
Unlike other components of your life insurance policy, the rules for the use of tobacco products are not regulated by the state, rather, they are established by the insurance company themselves. The specific ‘line’ for whether or not you are a regular user can be rather arbitrary. They vary by insurance provider and can even vary by the type of tobacco you are using.
There are three main ways in which your insurance company can determine whether or not you are a regular tobacco user. The most relaxed way is by simply asking you how often (if ever) you consume tobacco products. Even if this is what your insurance company is willing to do, you would not want to lie to them because it can be considered misrepresentation and cause the policy to be canceled. But beyond these ways, you may be asked to take a medical exam in which they test your blood and/or urine or submit to a sort of medical ‘background check’ also known as an MIB.
Typically, life insurance companies are looking for the use of nicotine of any kind, so the best way to qualify as a non-smoker is to simply not smoke or use any tobacco products. However, if you are labelled as a smoker when you first apply, but then later decide to quit (and can prove it), most life insurance companies will be willing to go back and readjust your rates.
What Are The Rules For Smoking Cigars?
While cigarette smoking has significantly decreased in the United States, cigar smoking has maintained fairly consistent levels of popularity over the years (over 5% of the population). Even if you do not smoke cigars daily and only smoke them on “certain occasions”, there are a lot of risks associated with smoking cigars and this is something life insurance companies take very seriously.
Cigars have a number of ingredients that have been directly proven to cause cancer, they have even more tar (per gram) than cigarettes, and they also have a number of other components you are going to want to avoid. They can cause damage to your mouth, your throat, your lungs, and several other vital organs. But even if you are a cigar smoker, it does not mean you necessarily cannot get affordable life insurance.
Many life insurance companies have a ‘line’ for what constitutes being a regular smoker that takes place on a monthly basis, and a ‘line’ for getting that label removed that takes place on a yearly basis. What this means is that they may consider anyone who has smoked a given number of cigars (usually between 1-8 cigars) in the past month is a ‘regular’ smoker, and if you want to get that title removed you are going to have to wait a certain number of years (usually between 1-5 years).
What Are The Rules For Smokeless Tobacco (Chewing Tobacco & Snuff)?
Some people consider chewing tobacco and snuff to be acceptable alternatives to cigarettes or cigars because neither is actually smoked. Even if you are perhaps saving your lungs their share of suffering, both of these things can still cause a tremendous amount of damage to your body and will certainly cause any life insurance company to view you as a higher risk client.
Like other tobacco products, smokeless tobacco can cause cancer, damage your organs, and cause a substantial amount of harm to your body. Also like other tobacco products, the specific lines that are drawn by life insurance companies are going to vary by the providers themselves—and even might vary by plan.
Many of these companies base their policy on how frequently you have used the product, and will also decide to remove your label as a ‘regular user’ based on how long it has been since you decided to quit. If you tried chewing tobacco one time many years ago, that is unlikely to actually label you as a user. If you have used it regularly or recently—especially recently enough where it will show up in any sort of medical exam—the insurance company is going to have cause for concern (and justification for charging higher premiums).
What Are The Rules For Vaporized Smoking?
Many people consider vaporized smoking to be a ‘healthy’ alternative to cigarettes, but even if this may be true (some studies are inconclusive), vaporized smoking is still certainly not without risks. Unlike cigars, cigarettes, and even chewing tobacco, vaporized smoking is a relatively new phenomenon. Life insurance companies generally agree it is bad for you, but with regards to how bad it is—and therefore how much your premiums should increase by—a common consensus is yet to be formed.
The known risks of vaporized smoking include addiction, respiratory problems, cardiac irregularities, and a weakened immune system. As is the case with each of the products mentioned in this article, if you believe you could even possibly be considered to be a regular user, you are going to want to shop around and compare different life insurance companies.
Some life insurance companies try to play things safe and will classify vaporized smokers along with all other kinds of smokers. Other life insurance companies will try to attract your business and will be willing to offer you only a mild premium increase. As time goes on, the different options these companies provide will probably become more uniform, but in the meantime, it seems you are going to have do a lot of looking around if you want to truly find what works best for you.
Does Marijuana Count As A Tobacco Product?
As ambiguous as the policies regarding vaporized smoking can be, the status of marijuana use in the eyes of life insurance companies is even less clear. All life insurance companies are subject to federal law, and even though recreational marijuana use is now legal in 8 states (with medical use being legal in numerous others), balancing the contradictions existing between state and federal law can be a difficult endeavor.
Most life insurance companies would advise that you don’t smoke anything. But with regards to marijuana, some will consider it the same as tobacco use, some will possibly ignore it, and some simply do not have a clear stance one way or the other. The fact that some people are prescribed marijuana—something that is never the case with tobacco—only serves to make things more complicated.
If you are a regular marijuana user who is considering getting life insurance, you are going to want to speak directly with your agent. This is something they have likely encountered before, and they should be able to answer your questions directly.
What Is The Worst That Can Happen If I Am Dishonest On My Insurance Application?
Before you qualify for a life insurance plan, many life insurance companies will ask you to pass some sort of medical exam. Typically, these exams include a urine and/or blood test in which the life insurance company will be able to find out if you have any threatening diseases or if you have been consuming any dangerous products (such as tobacco).
Even if the tests show up positive for tobacco products, you may still be able to qualify for life insurance but you will end up paying a higher premium for a policy that is otherwise exactly the same. But suppose your life insurance doesn’t issue a medical exam or suppose you quit consuming for just long enough before you take the exam. Are there any consequences for deceiving the life insurance company regarding your tobacco use?
Most life insurance companies are not out to get you, and in fact, they are generally recognized as among the most honest service providers in the entire financial industry. But if you are going to be actively engaging in something you know is putting your life at risk, this risk is something you are certainly going to need to be paying for.
If the circumstances of your death can be traced to your undisclosed use of tobacco products, you may end up losing the benefits of your policy altogether. Knowingly withholding risk-oriented information from your life insurance company can be considered insurance fraud, and this is a slippery slope you do not want to begin to go down.
If you want to guarantee your life insurance will benefit your family as you are hoping it will, it is best to be completely upfront with your insurance agent. The more honest you are about your use of any tobacco products—or any risky behavior for that matter—the more likely they will be able to find a policy that is able to work for you without the risk of losing it all.
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