June 24, 2024

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Life Insurance for Smokers (2024)

5 min read

Why you can trust the MarketWatch Guides team: Our writers and editors strive to provide factual, unbiased reporting on the life insurance industry on the strength of dozens of hours of research. We also consult independent industry experts and use a comprehensive methodology to rate the best life insurance companies.

Can Smokers Get Life Insurance?

The short answer is that smokers can get life insurance. When we conducted a Pollfish survey of 1,000 life insurance policyholders in February 2024, nearly 35% of those surveyed identified as smokers. According to our survey, cost and general coverage were the two most important factors for policyholders who smoke. 
Life insurance providers set rates using a complex underwriting process that assesses factors including age, health, lifestyle and family health issues. Because smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease can shorten your life expectancy, companies consider smokers as high-risk applicants and charge them significantly higher rates.

Life Insurance Cost Calculator

You can compare life insurance quotes from various companies below with our cost calculator.

What Qualifies Someone as a Smoker?

As part of the life insurance application process, you will likely have to answer questions about smoking and tobacco use. We’ve included general guidelines below to help you understand how life insurance companies qualify smokers versus nonsmokers. 

How Life Insurance Companies Test for Tobacco Use

Companies test for tobacco use and other drugs through a life insurance medical exam, which includes taking blood and urine samples. The provider tests your samples to reveal nicotine or cotinine — a chemical produced by nicotine — in your system. If you do not disclose your tobacco use habits, your provider could deny you coverage or cancel your policy later on. Keep in mind that providers may also discover tobacco use when reviewing your medical records as part of the underwriting process for most plans. 

Studies have shown that up to 47% of cigarette smokers do not disclose their tobacco use on their application, costing the life insurance industry $3.4 billion in lost premiums every year, according to data analytics company Verisk. In most states, insurers have a two-year contestability period during which a company can challenge a claim or nullify a policy based on false information provided on a life insurance application. 

Tobacco Use

Life insurance providers may generally classify you as a smoker if you smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco or use e-cigarettes. Some insurance companies may place you in the same risk category as someone with a pack-a-day cigarette smoking habit — even if you only smoke an occasional cigar or cigarette. Smokers are at higher risk for certain health conditions, so insurance companies typically will not consider you for a nonsmoker rate unless you’ve been tobacco-free for at least a year. 

Marijuana Use

Depending on the insurance provider and laws in your state, marijuana and cannabis usage could classify you as a smoker. In states where marijuana is illegal, you may be disqualified from coverage for testing positive in a blood test conducted during a medical exam conducted by the insurance company. 

Nicotine Gum and Patches

Since nicotine replacement products such as patches and gum leave nicotine in your system, providers may classify this as smoking. Testing positive for any nicotine use on the medical exam generally classifies you as a smoker. 

Smoker vs. Nonsmoker Life Insurance Cost

Companies use your life expectancy as a primary risk assessment when setting policy rates. According to our research, smokers face life insurance rates approximately three times higher than non-tobacco users because they have shorter life expectancies. Data gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that those who quit smoking at age 30 gain almost 10 years of life expectancy. 

The below monthly rates are based on an applicant seeking a 20-year term life insurance.

Applicant Non-Smoker Rate Smoker Rate Cost Increase
35-year-old man $20 $56 180%
35-year-old woman $18 $48 167%
45-year-old man $36 $115 219%
45-year-old woman $31 $92 197%

How To Find Affordable Life Insurance as a Smoker

Life insurance providers assign applicants to a health rating class based on medical risks during the underwriting process. Insurers reserve the top health rating class, which typically correlates to the lowest rates, for non-tobacco users considered in good health. There are some ways to secure lower rates and seek alternative coverage options. 

  • Consider quitting: Insurance companies will likely regard former smokers more favorably than current smokers, so it may help to consider quitting smoking and apply for coverage a year later. Most companies employ a waiting period of at least 12 months before considering an applicant tobacco-free.
  • Get multiple quotes: Each insurance provider employs its own underwriting standards and formulas for smokers and nonsmokers. Some companies might offer more affordable options than others, which you can assess by requesting multiple quotes.
  • Consider no-exam plans: Smokers with pre-existing health conditions who wish to protect their loved ones can also consider life insurance options such as no-exam policies or guaranteed issue plans that accept all applicants regardless of their health.

Frequently Asked Questions About Life Insurance for Smokers

You can get life insurance if you smoke, use chewing tobacco or vape e-cigarettes. Though tobacco users face paying higher rates for coverage, you can take steps to save money on your premiums. Quitting for at least a year before applying for coverage may help you qualify for insurance products with a better health rating and lower premiums. Selecting a term policy with a set period of coverage is likely cheaper than a whole life policy.

Based on our research, providers issue life insurance plans to smokers at rates nearly three times higher than those of non-smokers. Keep in mind that “smoker” can mean smoking an occasional cigar, vaping e-cigarettes or using marijuana. The type of life insurance coverage you want will also impact how much you pay. Among policy types, term life insurance plans are generally cheaper than permanent coverage such as a universal life or whole life policy.

Abstaining from smoking and other tobacco products for at least 12 months could qualify you as a non-smoker when you apply for life insurance. The rules surrounding the waiting period you’ve been smoke-free can differ among providers. We recommend you research your options with the help of a licensed insurance agent.

According to our research, Bestow, Nationwide and Mass Mutual offer some of the cheapest life insurance rates for smokers who qualify for the preferred health rate class. Term life policies that expire after a set period are typically less costly than permanent policies, which remain in effect for your entire life. Tobacco users pay nearly three times more for coverage than non-smokers, so we recommend getting life insurance quotes from at least three providers if you smoke.


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