Life Insurance for Smokers Guide: What Policy Is The Best?

You’ve probably heard that smokers pay crazy high rates for life insurance, so you avoid buying it.

Should you?

Definitely not. Life insurance protects your loved ones, pays off your debt, helps you cover funeral expenses, and much more.

Instead of avoiding it, I’ll help you come up with a strategy to lower your costs and help you find the best policy.

Can You Get Life Insurance?

Smokers can get life insurance, but at a much higher rate than non-smokers. Insurance companies base the premiums on your risk of falling ill and dying.

Since smoking increases your risk of certain health issues such as cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, insurance companies charge more.

As a smoker, you could get fully underwritten life insurance or guaranteed life insurance. The difference is the medical exam.

Underwritten life insurance

Fully underwritten insurance requires a medical exam. During the exam, they test your blood and urine. If you smoke, nicotine will show up in both tests.

The insurance company should already know you smoke, though, as lying on the application is insurance fraud.

Guaranteed life insurance

While smokers pay higher premiums than non-smokers, the policies with medical exams cost less than guaranteed policies.

Guaranteed life insurance covers most people in any health condition but because insurance companies take a risk providing guaranteed coverage, they charge more for it.

Cost Of Life Insurance For Smokers

The rate smokers pay depends on a variety of factors in addition to their habit.

A smoker’s age, health condition, and lifestyle habits all play a role.

On average, smokers pay as much as 100% – 300% more than non-smokers of the same age and health condition.

Smokers in good health are on the lower end of the spectrum and smokers in poor health pay the most.

Insurance companies rate or categorize smokers as follows:

  • A preferred smoker stopped smoking recently and is in good health. He/she doesn’t have serious health issues nor a family history of health issues.
  • A smoker is still smoking, but is in good health. There aren’t any major health issues at this time.
  • A table rating smoker still smokes and has ‘poor health.’ These smokers pay the standard rate plus a specific percentage, up to 200% in some cases.

Like non-smokers, the life insurance rates you pay depend on your other factors including your age, lifestyle, and overall health.

Here are a few sample life insurance rates for smokers with various policies:

  • Healthy 30-year old male smoker with a $250,000 10-year term policy – $47 per month
  • Healthy 30-year old male smoker with a $500,000 30-year term policy – $97 per month
  • Healthy 30-year female smoker with a $250,000 10-year term policy – $37 per month
  • Healthy 30-year old female smoker with a $500,000 30-year term policy – $76 per month

Who Is Considered A Smoker?

Life insurance companies do not only consider those smoking cigarettes as smokers. Anyone with the following habits is a smoker:

Cigar and pipe smokers

If you smoke more than one cigar or pipe a month, life insurance companies will consider you a smoker.

They will also consider you a smoker if your nicotine test comes back positive or if you use any other tobacco products along with cigars and pipes.

Tobacco chewers

Life insurance companies treat tobacco chewers the same as smokers.

Your blood test will show nicotine and they can’t differentiate between chewing tobacco and smoking on the test.

You can mention you chew tobacco rather than smoke. Some insurance companies offer lower rates for chewing tobacco.

Vaping and e-cigarettes

Right now, life insurance companies view vaping and smoking the same.

E-cigarettes or vaping are new and life insurance companies don’t know enough about their impact on the smoker’s health.

A few insurance companies may charge lower premiums for vaping versus smoking, so it’s worth mentioning, but know that the nicotine will show up in your urine and blood, so be honest.

Nicotine patches and gum

Nicotine patches and gum release nicotine into your system, so they will show up on a blood or urine test.

Let your insurance company know of the usage and its frequency. They’ll ask questions about your smoking habits and rate you accordingly.

The time since you last smoked anything will determine how they rate you.

Marijuana users

Each insurance company views marijuana use differently. Some deny your application right away. Others allow it, but rate you as a smoker.

Even medical marijuana users face higher premiums since they have a serious medical condition that requires use of marijuana.

Best Life Insurance For Smokers

Smokers have similar life insurance options as non-smokers, just at a much higher rate. Coverage options may be lower sometimes as well.

Term life insurance rates are the lowest and because smokers pay 2 to 3 times more than non-smokers, term life is often the most affordable as it has the lowest base rates.

Short-term policy

If you plan to quit smoking, buying a short-term policy now and then upgrading to a longer-term policy after you’ve been a non-smoker for 12 – 24 months will save you the most money.

For example, you could take a short-term term policy now and then upgrade to a whole life policy once you’re classified as a non-smoker.

No-exam policy

If you’re in a hurry, consider a no-exam life insurance policy.

You’ll have lower maximum coverage amounts and higher premiums, but you won’t have to worry about a medical condition stopping you from getting coverage.

This helps those worried about their health and eventual life expectancy.

John Hancock

John Hancock offers a great program for smokers called the JH Quit Smoking Program. The program applies only to their permanent life insurance policies.

If you smoke, but intend to quit, John Hancock will charge you standard non-smoker premiums for 3 years.

If you show evidence that you’ve quit for at least 12 consecutive months, the non-smoker rates continue for your lifetime.

If you don’t quit, your premiums revert to smoker rates, but you saved for the first three years of the policy.

Banner Life Insurance

Banner offers leniency to smokers if they are in good health.

Overall, Banner extends leniency to anyone with an ‘issue’ causing other life insurance companies to charge more. They take a holistic view of your eligibility.

For example, if you smoke but you don’t have any other major health conditions or risky lifestyle behaviours, you’ll pay rates comparable to a healthy non-smoker.

Banner uses a threshold of ‘3 major issues’ before bumping you up to the next premium tier.


AIG has more lenient underwriting guidelines than many insurance companies.

While they may charge higher rates (almost all insurance companies do), smoking doesn’t automatically leave you with the highest rates or lowest coverage amount.

You’ll find coverage options available to you even if you haven’t quit smoking yet or have smoked within the last 12 months.

North American Company

North American Company is a privately owned insurance company, which works to the advantage of smokers. They often have lower premiums and less stringent requirements.

Smokers still pay higher rates, but North American offers policies that may work to your benefit, including convertible term policies.

If you quit smoking before you convert your policy, you get the best of both worlds.

You have term coverage should anything happen to you before you quit smoking and you have lifetime coverage after you quit (assuming you do).

No Exam Policies For Smokers

If you smoke and have medical issues, you may have trouble finding life insurance. You pose a ‘double risk’ with your smoking habit and health issues.

If you fear you won’t pass the medical exam or worry that your health issues plus your smoking habit will lead to a denied application, consider no exam life insurance policies.

As the name suggests, you don’t need a medical exam.

Simplified Issue Life Insurance

No exam life insurance is commonly known as Simplified Issue Life Insurance, you only need to answer basic questions for this policy.

If you pass those questions, you will get coverage. The questions inquire about major issues, such as cancer, heart issues, HIV, and kidney disease.

Simplified Issue policies have two conditions:

  • Higher premiums because the insurance company can’t verify your overall health condition.
  • Lower coverage because the insurance company only knows a little about you.

Lying On the Application

Lying on a life insurance application could result in serious consequences.

Let the insurance company know if you smoke or did smoke within the last 12 months. If you have a medical exam, they will find out in your urine or blood tests.

Canceled policies and denied claims

Lying on the application leads to a denied application and insurance fraud is a serious offense that leads to cancelled policies or denied claims.

Even if you have a no-exam policy, the risk still exists. If the insurance company finds out after you die that you smoked, as they could during the autopsy, they may deny your claim.

This leaves your beneficiaries with no payout upon your death.

Common Questions

How long after quitting smoking can you get life insurance?

You can get life insurance at any point in your life, even while you still smoke.

If you quit, insurance companies don’t consider you a non-smoker until you are nicotine-free for at least 12 months.

Some companies, such as MetLife have tiered policies.

They have a rate for standard non-smokers (no smoking for at least 12 months), but better rates for non-smokers that haven’t smoked for 3 and 4 years.

What if you start smoking after purchasing life insurance?

If you start smoking after buying life insurance, you don’t have to disclose it. However, it might still affect you depending on the circumstances.

Since your life insurance application asks only about smoking habits in the last year before you applied, you aren’t committing insurance fraud. But, many insurance policies have a contestability period of 2 years.

If you die within that time, the insurance company may look into the reason.

If it comes up that you started smoking, it may be hard to differentiate when you started and/or if it caused your death. This may lead to cancelled claims in some cases.

Does it matter how often you smoke?

As odd as it sounds, yes there are classifications for the frequency of your smoking habit:

  • A preferred smoker only smokes occasionally and is in good overall health (occasional cigar or pipe smokers often fit in this category).
  • A standard smoker smokes often and/or is in poor health.

What questions will you have to answer when applying?

Life insurance companies ask questions before they process your application and order the medical exam.

The process costs them money, so they screen you first to determine your eligibility. As it pertains to smoking, they may ask:

  • How long have you smoked?
  • When was the last time you smoked?
  • How often do you smoke?
  • What do you smoke?

Quote Tips for Smokers

Smokers pay higher rates than non-smokers, but that doesn’t mean you should overpay.

Before you apply for life insurance, try the following:

Quit smoking

Life insurance companies measure ‘quitters’ by years, so you need to quit for at least 12 months for the non-smoker classification.

Shop around

Each life insurance company views smoking differently. Some deny your application or make premiums unaffordable. Others embrace it and offer affordable coverage.

Never lie on your application

Don’t lie on your application. The insurance company will find out eventually and it will lead to cancelled policies and/or denied claims.

Don’t put off buying life insurance if you smoke. If you plan to quit, buy a short-term policy that provides coverage now.

Once you are a non-smoker for at least 12 months, you can apply for a new policy.

If you buy a convertible policy, make sure you know the terms of converting. Ask the insurance company if/when you’ll be eligible for non-smoker rates when converting.

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