Smoking and life insurance
We all know that smoking is bad for your health. It is also a very expensive habit. However, you might not realise that if you smoke it could also affect your chances of getting affordable life insurance cover.
Because smokers typically die younger, insurers have to mitigate their risk by levying higher premiums on people they class as ‘smokers‘.
But who do insurers classify as a smoker, and what is the impact on their life insurance cover?
How do insurers classify a smoker?
In life insurance terms, if you have smoked or used any tobacco products in the past 12 months, you are classed as a smoker.
This means everyone from a 20-a-day cigarette smoker, through to the occasional cigar puffer is, in the insurer’s eyes, a smoker and therefore deemed a higher risk.
Life insurance for ex-smokers
As mentioned above you are still considered a smoker until you have refrained from the use of tobacco for a minimum of 12 months.
Therefore, even if you decide to quit, it is unlikely you will see any immediate benefit reflected in the cost of your premiums.
But, nowadays, insurers provide varying categories for ex-smokers, rather than it being completely black and white. Therefore, the longer you refrain from smoking, the better rates you will get.
If you declare yourself a non-smoker, there is a possibility you will be asked to undergo a nicotine test to prove your smoking status.
Some insurance providers may also allow for the very occasional cigarette, for example up to 4-a-year.
If you have an existing life insurance policy which was taken out when you smoked there is a possibility you can qualify for lower premiums due to your positive lifestyle change.
In this instance, it is best to inform your insurer and see what options they can offer you.
Is vaping classed as smoking?
On the road to quitting, many move to using nicotine replacement products such as patches, gum or most significantly in recent years’ e-cigarettes (vaping).
Whilst turning to these alternative products can improve your health, insurers will still regard you as a smoker until you are free of nicotine for at least 12 months.
Read our blog post on smoking and vaping »
How does smoking affect the cost of premiums?
Smoking can significantly increase the cost of your life insurance premiums.
Typically, it is around a third more for a 30-year-old smoker, and up to double the cost for a 50-year-old smoker.
SunLife suggests by the end of a policy, smokers could pay 75% more for their premiums, than non-smokers for comparable coverage – (source: www.sunlife.co.uk).
Whereas, research published by Money Saving Expert suggests this figure is even higher, at 96% more for a 40-year-old on a fixed term £200,00 policy, over 20 years – (source: www.moneysavingexpert.com).
Compare multiple quotes to get the best dealWhen it comes to working out the cost of premiums, not all insurance underwriters will treat smokers or ex-smokers the same.
The best way to ensure you find the very best quotes is to shop around, comparing multiple policies.
Alternatively, you can get a reputable broker, like Reassured, to search the market on your behalf (for no fee) – saving you time and money.
Can insurers test for smoking?Yes. It is known as a cotinine test and a life insurance provider can request it as part of their medical exam process.
If your insurer requires you to attend an exam and you have declared you are a non-smoker, they are still likely to test you anyway.
Most applicants GP records contain information on whether they smoke. These records could also be requested by insurers as part of an application.
Smoking, vaping & life insurance in the UK (Infographic 2018)
Be honest on your life insurance applicationIt can be tempting to claim you are a non-smoker when actually you are not, particularly when you consider the increased premiums.
However, it is likely you will be caught out, as insurers can run medical checks, which will flag if you have not been truthful.
Even if you avoid the spot checks, your policy is unlikely to pay out if you are discovered to be a smoker.
If you die or develop a critical illness, your medical notes will reveal that you are a tobacco user and your insurer will usually take one of two courses of action:
- They just will not pay out and all your monthly premiums will have been wasted
- They will pay a proportion of your benefit, in line with how much less you paid than you would have if you had declared yourself a smoker.
The best way to mitigate the additional cost of life insurance for smokers is simply to quit, (see below).
Serious medical conditions linked with smokingThe disease most commonly associated with smoking is lung cancer but did you know that smoking also increases the risk of a number of other serious conditions, (some terminal):
- Mouth cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Liver cancer
- Chronic bronchitis
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart attack.
100,000 people die every year in the UK as a result of smoking, with many more living with debilitating smoking-related conditions. Smoking increases your risk of developing more than 50 serious illnesses – (source: www.nhs.uk).
What if you start smoking after taking out life insurance?If you start smoking after taking out a policy as a non-smoker, it is imperative that you tell your insurance company as soon as possible.
Failure to inform your insurer could impact on your ability to claim on your policy.
Quit smokingAs well as spending less on life insurance, if you quit smoking you are likely to have much more disposable income available.
The average 20-a-day smoker spends around £3,500 a year of cigarettes.
If you are keen to quit, here are some tips to help you stop:
- Talk to your GP: Your doctor has a variety of tools available, which can help you to stop. From nicotine replacement products to anti-smoking medication, you will be able to get some practical support from your GP
- Join a local group: Studies have shown that it is easier to stop when you quit with the support of others, and there are many groups around the UK that will welcome you along. The NHS runs stop smoking services, staffed by trained advisers
- Use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and sometimes willpower alone is not enough. Many people achieve more success by weaning themselves off the drug gradually, using NRT such as patches, gums or inhalers
- Keep busy: Smoking and boredom go hand in hand, so avoid falling into the boredom trap by keeping your hands busy. Take up an instrument, learn a new skill or write a novel
- Exercise more: Studies have shown that people who exercise more are less likely to smoke. The endorphins released following a workout will make you feel better, helping you avoid reaching for the cigarettes through stress.
Visit the government stop smoking webpages to learn helpful tips on how to quit and the added health benefits.
Important considerations for smokers:
- Be honest. Always disclose your smoking status when applying for life insurance
- Replacement products. Using nicotine products, like patches, gum or e-cigarettes, will still class you as a smoker
- Tests. Insurers can test to see if you are a smoker, or on occasions check your medical history
- Do not delay. Putting off taking out cover, hoping to qualify as a non-smoker at some point in the future, could leave you exposed
- Review your policy. If you become a non-smoker, review your life insurance cover, you could save money
- Higher life insurance premiums. Premiums can as much as double the price for a 50-year-old smoker
- Give it time. Insurers will still classify you as a smoker for 12 – 18 months after quitting. (This includes the use of any nicotine replacement products)
- Compare quotes. The best way to find the cheapest quote is to compare multiple policies or use a broker.