Shuman Roy is an entrepreneur, business owner, and musician. He started RoysNoys, LLC in 2013 as a music production and education service company. He also offers small business consulting and advisory services to help businesses get from start-up mode to turn-key operations. Shuman earned his M.B.A from the Stern School of Business in 2001 and has an undergraduate degree from Manhattan College in ...

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Written by Shuman Roy
Content Writer & Entrepreneur Shuman Roy

Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Joel...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP® Joel Ohman

UPDATED: Jun 28, 2022

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Have you ever asked, “how do life insurance companies test for tobacco use?”

If you’re a smoker looking to obtain life insurance, you probably already know it’s not a good mix. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to obtain affordable coverage.

IIn short, life insurance is designed to pay out a death benefit in the event you end up, well, giving into your conditions. Please read “how does life insurance work?” for more details.

Unfortunately, smoking cigarettes, and tobacco use in general, significantly increases your chances of an early death, since smoking has been linked to many various life threatening diseases. Insurers are well aware of this fact, thanks to all the data they compile.

Therefore, life insurance companies charge higher insurance premiums for those who smoke (or use any tobacco products).

Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if all tobacco users recognized that fact and simply admitted their tobacco use and paid the higher premium?

Sadly, this isn’t always the case and a game of cat and mouse between the insurance company and insurance applicant typically ensues.

But insurance companies are determined to identify tobacco users and charge premiums accordingly. So, how do they do it?

Will a life insurance application have tobacco-related questions?

First, they simply ask if you’re smoking at the time you’re applying, and hope you’re honest about it. As an applicant for life insurance, or health insurance in some instances, you’ll be asked about tobacco on several occasions.

Any answer other than, “I have never used tobacco in any form,” and you can expect the questions to keep on coming. If you have a smoking habit, you’re going to be viewed as high-risk in their eyes, and they’re going to want to know more about said habit.

The following are a few smoking-related questions you may be asked:

  • How much do you smoke on average?
  • How long have you used tobacco?
  • What type of tobacco have you used?
  • When was the last time you used tobacco?
  • Have you completed a tobacco cessation program, and if so when?
  • Have you used tobacco since then?

…and on and on and on. These questions help them gauge the levels of your tobacco use, though they’ll only get the proper data if they’re answered truthfully.

[How much does life insurance cost?]

Once you answer these questions, you can expect to answer them a few more times throughout the application process, as the insurer looks to determine if your answers conflict at any point. This will help them determine how honest you’re being with them.

At that point, even if you quit a decade ago, you may still feel as though the questions are invasive, but they’re just so your insurer understands you and your habits better.

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Will a medical exam detect tobacco usage?

The life insurance company that you’re working with is going to operate on the ‘trust, but verify’ system.

This means no matter what you said during the application process, you’re going to have to submit a urine and/or blood sample to verify your use of tobacco or lack thereof.

Specifically, they are looking for the presence of cotinine in your system. Nicotine is broken down into cotinine in the human body over time.

Cotinine is present in your system for a longer period of time than nicotine, so the insurance company has a better chance of discovering this substance when testing your fluid sample, be it via blood or urine. Though urine tests do seem to be more common than blood tests, sometimes a blood sample will be requested, so be prepared!

[What do insurance companies test for life insurance?]

What is the bottom line?

Be honest. The insurance company you’re working with will likely find out if you’re not telling the truth.

They will probably still issue you a life insurance policy if the presence of tobacco is discovered in your system.

You’ll just be charged the smokers premium, which will certainly be higher than the quote you saw on TV or the one you received before you admitted to the tobacco use, or you were caught red-handed.

To ensure you get the best deal on your life insurance, tobacco or no tobacco, take a little extra time to compare insurance quotes online and speak with an independent insurance agent or two. Life insurance rates can fluctuate, and knowing what’s out there could save you money. As mentioned above, simply be prepared to answer multiple questions about your habits, and to undergo a few medical tests.

We wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a smoker out there paying less than a non-smoker for their life insurance policy simply because they look the time to shop around.

See also: Top 10 life insurance companies in the United States.