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How Do Life Insurance Companies Test for Tobacco Use?

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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...

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Reviewed byJoel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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Insurance Q&A: “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.

In short, life insurance is designed to pay out a death benefit in the event you, ahem, die (how does life insurance work?).

Unfortunately, smoking cigarettes, and tobacco use in general, significantly increases your chances of an early death. 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?

The Life Insurance Application Has Tobacco-Related Questions

First, they simply ask and hope you’re honest about it. As an applicant for life insurance (or health insurance), 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.

How much you used, how long you’ve used tobacco, what type of tobacco you used, when was the last time you used tobacco, have you completed a tobacco cessation program, if so when, and have you used tobacco since…and on and on and on.

[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 feel like you need a cigarette as a result of the interrogation! (We don’t recommend it…)

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The Medical Exam(s) May Detect Tobacco Usage

The life insurance company 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.

[What do insurance companies test for life insurance?]

Bottom Line

Be honest. The insurance company 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 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.

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.

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