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Another Reason to Kick the Habit: Life Insurance for Former Smokers

Written by Cody Marchant

Can’t remember the last time you lit up? That’s great news. It means you’re well on your way to becoming a “former smoker”.

You’ve read the research like that found on lung.org stating that when you quit:

  • Your heart rate drops to a normal level.
  • The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • Your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
  • Your risk of having a stroke is reduced to that of a non-smoker.

You’ve heard from family and friends who desperately wanted you to quit. You know your own reasons for kicking the habit. But I’d encourage you to also consider the impact this has on getting life insurance.  

Perhaps you have some type of life insurance through your employer or you’ve had an agent approach you to buy some term life insurance. But why do you need it? Well, the obvious answer is to financially provide for your family in the event of your passing. This is where people often tune out.

Because who wants to think about their own demise? But if you think instead about who you’ll be protecting with this money you set aside, it gives you a whole new perspective on buying life insurance.

So yes, we want to protect our loved ones even if we can’t be here. But besides a death benefit, what else is life insurance good for?

Permanent life insurance policies offer cash value. You would have access to that cash value through a loan or withdrawal. When you take a loan versus a withdrawal, you have the option to pay it back and restore your death benefit. That way, you’re able to use the policy for yourself but still pass on a tax-free death benefit to your family.

There may be fees involved with accessing the cash value so make sure you understand the policy terms before taking any money out.

In addition to loans or withdrawals, you may also have access to “living benefits” with your policy. Living benefits allow you to access your death benefit in the event of terminal illness, chronic illness or nursing care confinement.

A life insurance policy can be an asset to you while you’re alive. And since you’ve stopped smoking, it means you could be eligible for even greater benefits.

Who is Considered a Tobacco User?

Maybe you weren’t a smoker but have used other tobacco products. Life insurance companies consider the following to be tobacco usage:

  • Cigars (except for the twice per year celebratory cigar)
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes)
  • Pipe tobacco
  • Snuff
  • And with some companies, marijuana (medical or recreational)

The common denominator among all of these, excluding marijuana, is nicotine. Life insurers beef with nicotine is that it increases a person’s risk for heart disease among others. And obviously, that’s not looked on favorably by life insurance providers.

But what if you only smoked marijuana? With 9 states and the District of Columbia legalizing medicinal and recreational use of marijuana and 29 states allowing some form of medicinal use, it’s become a hot topic. Consequently, life insurance companies have to consider this more closely. And when it comes to marijuana usage, either medicinal use or recreational, insurance companies are taking different stances.

Since there have not been any studies on the long-term use of marijuana, it’s more difficult to say whether it’s riskier for the carrier. But most life insurance companies will scrutinize other aspects of a person’s history when they are made aware of marijuana usage. For example, they will look at the person’s driving record, how long and how often they use marijuana, when they started using, and if it’s in combination with other drugs and/or alcohol use.

It might seem that medicinal use of marijuana would be looked at more favorably, however, it actually leads to further questions about the underlying causes for the prescription.

The debate is still on regarding marijuana use, but life insurance carriers have made it clear where they stand when it comes to tobacco use.

Was Quitting Really Worth it?

On average, life insurance rates for smokers are 2-4 times higher than people who do not smoke. That might make you wonder…if I want better rates, how long should I wait after I quit smoking to apply for life insurance?

Delaying the purchase of life insurance is not recommended. You don’t want to leave your family at risk by not being covered.  This is especially true because the length of time you must wait to be considered a non-smoker varies from company to company. And when you wait, there’s always the possibility you’ll develop other health issues.

To illustrate some of the benefits quitting can have on your life insurance rates, here is a chart that compares the life insurance rates for smokers, non-smokers, and former smokers.  This chart displays some of the lowest life insurance premiums on the market for both male and females who are 35 years of age for a 10, 20, and 30 year term policy with a face value of $500,000.  Smokers in this scenario smoke one pack a day, and former smokers have not smoked for 1 year.

Smokers

Term Male Female
10 Year $56.33/mo. $53.75/mo.
20 Year $88.58/mo. $72.66/mo.
30 Year $145.34/mo. $103.69/mo.

Former Smokers

Term Male Female
10 Year $16.28/mo. $12.47/mo.
20 Year $26.66/mo. $18.49/mo.
30 Year $46.90/mo. $40.04/mo.

Non-Smokers

Term Male Female
10 Year $13.76/mo. $12.47/mo.
20 Year $21.07/mo. $18.49/mo.
30 Year $37.39/mo. $31.44/mo.

After a brief look at these charts, it quickly becomes apparent that smoking is a very expensive lifestyle when it comes to purchasing life insurance.  Smokers pay approximately 4 times more than non-smokers on average for premiums, even at the affordable end of the spectrum.

Former smokers however only pay a slight amount more than non-smokers, even after just one year of quitting.

While these figures are some of the lowest on the market, we cannot promise that they will reflect rates that you will receive, or that they will always be this closely related to one another based on your smoking habits.  However, this quick analysis definitely shows just how much quitting smoking can affect your life insurance premiums.

Medical Examinations for Former Smokers

When you apply for life insurance, you’ll have to provide details about your tobacco usage. As a former smoker, be prepared for these questions:

  1. Have you used tobacco products in the last 12 months?
    • With some companies, after 12 months, they will consider you a non-smoker. But it’s not until you hit the 3-year-smoke-free mark or the 5-year-smoke-free mark that you’ll be considered for the better ratings. A better rating means you save money.
  2. What products have you used?
    • You’ll want to list any and all products.
  3. How often do you use these products?
    • This is often the most important question. Because if you just smoke a celebratory cigar twice a year, that will be looked at differently than someone who has been a regular or heavy smoker in the past.

What Can I Do if I Have Insurance With Tobacco Rates But Have Now Quit?

what can i do if i have smoker life insurance rates but have quit recently

Let’s say you didn’t wait and you’ve got life insurance at tobacco rates. But you quit smoking. Are you stuck with those rates forever?

Not necessarily. You should find out if your policy allows you to retake the medical exam and qualify for lower rates. Generally, you’ll want to approach your life insurer after being smoke-free for at least 12 months. But when doing that, it’s possible for new health issues to be discovered. You might have conditions or disease that stem from previously being a smoker. After all, smoking is known to increase your risk for developing diabetes, asthma, cancer, and COPD. If you answer yes to having any of these on a life insurance application, you could be declined.

When you retake the medical exam, the insurance company could keep you at your current rates. Or worst case scenario, medical conditions that weren’t previously disclosed could be uncovered, which could result in your policy being rescinded.

Lying on Life Insurance Applications

It’s important to be honest when applying for life insurance, whether it’s being honest about smoking or any other medical condition, so that you get the best policy for your unique situation and don’t open yourself up to losing coverage in the future. In most states if you pass away within the first two years of your policy being in-force, you are still within what’s called the “contestability period”. During this time, the insurance company will investigate whether you provided accurate information on your life insurance application and if you didn’t, could deny paying the death proceeds to your beneficiaries.

Curious about how they know you smoke? Do they test for nicotine in your system? Not exactly. But the blood, urine and saliva tests that are done can identify cotinine in your system. Cotinine is an alkaloid found in tobacco and is formed when there’s nicotine in the body. If you’re a regular smoker, nicotine can stay in your body for up to 3 weeks since the last time you smoked.

When you apply for life insurance, you’ll go through the underwriting process. There is life insurance that is not fully underwritten, which means a medical exam would not be required. However, they may pull what’s called an Attending Physician Statement or APS which would reveal that your doctor identified you as a smoker.

Bottom line, honesty is the best policy. You don’t want to commit insurance fraud. And you can still get insurance coverage, even if you recently quit smoking.

Some of the top life insurance companies for former smokers, as indicated by policygenius.com, are: John Hancock, Lincoln, MetLife, Prudential and Banner. Of course it’s important to speak with a qualified insurance agent or broker to determine the right company and life insurance product for you.

Thinking About Quitting?

If you haven’t quit yet but are seriously considering it, you might want to check out these unconventional methods and see how they work for you.

  • Join a research study. You can be a part of a new scientific discovery. And one of these methods that hasn’t yet been released to the public, could work wonders for you. Not only would you get the treatments for free, you could also get paid to participate. To find research studies being conducted in your area, visit: ClinicalTrials.gov
  • Download an app. Want help quitting? Yes, there’s an app for that! Multiple apps actually. Here’s just a few: LIVESTRONG MyQuit Coach, Quit Smoking: Cessation Nation, and Smoke Free. These apps are no-cost and help you set up a plan to quit, track cravings and money saved as well as offer a community to support you.
  • Try hypnosis. Hypnosis puts you in a relaxed state where it’s easier to concentrate and you’re more likely to take suggestions like- quit smoking. Although hypnosis might not be for everyone, it could work for you. Your healthcare provider can suggest a good hypnotherapist.

Quit Smoking and Trying to Keep it That Way?

When you apply for life insurance as a former smoker, the life insurer wants to make sure it’s going to “stick”. They can’t take the risk of you quitting, applying for life insurance at the better rates and then immediately starting back up again after the policy issues. So, they put timeframes around it.

Quitting is a huge accomplishment. After you quit, it’s essential that you continue to look for ways to support this lifestyle change. So that 6 months from now, 3 years from now, 5 years from now or 20 years from now, you’ll still be reaping the benefits of being an ex-smoker.

After you quit, you want to stay quit. And avoid any relapse. You can do that by:

  • Joining a support group. You can find one by going to lungusa.org or by calling 800-QUIT-NOW.
  • Controlling negative self-talk. When trying to change any habit, it can be easy to slip into a pattern of negative self-talk like “this is too hard” or “I need to smoke to deal with all the stress in my life.” The trick is to counter each negative thought with a positive one. The easiest way to do that is to start recording the thoughts you have and then start replacing them with positive thoughts.
  • Avoiding the “I’ll just have one” trap. It can be a slippery slope once you get another taste of nicotine. Try reciting this mantra when you feel the urge to have ‘just one’: “N.O.P.E”, or “not one puff, ever”.
  • Meditating. Meditation helps alleviate stress, which can be a trigger for smoking. It also helps you come to grips with your emotions and feelings. You can learn to accept or move on from those feelings rather than turning to a cigarette to cope with them. Meditation also aids in self-control. As you force yourself to sit and become mindful and focused, you eventually learn to do that even when you’re not “officially” meditating.

 

You had lots of reasons to quit. One of them was probably the desire to be around for your loved ones as long as you can. And now that you have quit, you also have a better chance of getting more affordable life insurance. Could now be the right time to take advantage of one more perk to becoming a “former smoker”?

Shopping Hack: Compare Life Insurance Policies From 12+ Companies
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