Are You a Current or Previous Smoker? Here's How to Deal With Life Insurance

According to the CDC, as of 2020 more than 30 million adults in the U.S. actively smoke, and of that more than 15 million Americans are living with a smoking related illness or disease.  Life insurance companies have realized that large of a group cannot be ignored. However, shopping around for insurance could not be more important for smokers, as underwriting criteria, resulting classification and rates for smokers can differ drastically from company to company.

How Will Companies Know I am a Smoker?

Most individuals are considered a smoker if company-determined levels of nicotine are found in the urine of the applicant (urine tests are a part of all mandatory paramedical exams a consumer must undergo before a life insurance policy can be issued).

Dealing with life insurance as a current or previous smoker

While some companies mandate that any amount of nicotine found in the urine classifies a consumer as a smoker, other companies do not count trace amounts of nicotine that can be found from smoking the occasional cigar or tobacco pipe or from chewing tobacco. Some companies may offer consumers who smoke less than 12 cigars a year or occasionally chew tobacco preferred rates.

Among cigarette smokers, some companies differentiate between moderate and heavy usage, and charge moderate or light users less than they would heavy users. Many use the differentiation of “standard” and “preferred” tobacco users. You’ll usually fall into the preferred category if you smoke but are otherwise healthy (with regard to weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol).

What if I Stopped Smoking a While Ago?

It is not a good idea to lie on your application. Not only will recent nicotine use show up in a urine test, oftentimes even if the consumer has refrained from smoking for a short time prior to the exam, but if you do lie on your application, stop smoking for a while to pass the test and then later expire, a life insurance company could refuse to pay your claim as you misrepresented yourself on your application.

Will Smoking Affect My Beneficiaries?

When you first buy a policy, there is a set period of time, usually two years, called the contestable period.

Trying to quit smoking and dealing with life insurance as a current or previous smoker

If you died during that time, your family or heirs could suffer if your insurer finds you misrepresented your smoking. If your death was not related to smoking, it might not matter. But look at it this way: Is it worth a reduced premium to possibly put your survivors through a battle with an insurance company over your benefits? Or looking at it another way, you’re doing the right thing by choosing to protect your family with life insurance, why put your estate in danger by lying, especially when most smokers can still find affordable rates?

Each company has its own guidelines for how long a consumer must be free of tobacco to qualify for non-smoker rates. Some offer graduated scales, with rates that drop the longer you stay tobacco-free. At many companies, smokers who get insurance and then quit may be able to qualify for non-smoking rates after a certain amount of time passes (the length of time required varies by company but can be as short as one year). If you have been tobacco-free for a year or longer, it might be a good idea to shop for a new term life insurance policy. Not only could you qualify as a non-smoker and see preferred or standard non-smoker rates, but life insurance prices have been decreasing over the past several years, and you might just be surprised by just how low your rates could be!


  1. Current Cigarette Smoking in Young Adults, CDC.