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How does tobacco use affect buying life insurance?

Do you prefer to learn by watching? We answer this question in a video below. Click here to jump ahead.

You may already know that smoking can increase your term life insurance rates, but do you know exactly how life insurance companies are defining “smoking”?

Tobacco, smokeless nicotine, and marijuana users can be surprised to learn that they also fall in the same category as cigarette smokers when it comes to their life insurance application, which I’ll address a bit more in depth in a minute.

First, it’s important to know that insurance companies often have different non-smoker and smoker rates because the health risks associated with smoking and tobacco use are well-documented. So, if you’re a smoker, life insurance companies help cushion the increased risk of insuring you by raising your term life insurance rates.

But, even tobacco, nicotine, and marijuana users can still qualify for life insurance coverage.

Here we help you understand common insurance terms when it comes to smoking classifications and provide tips on how to find the best term life insurance rates.

» Compare: Term life insurance quotes

Who does the insurance industry consider a “smoker”?

There are different levels of tobacco use from the occasional cigar smoker to the daily cigarette user.

These products are considered by insurance companies when you apply for life insurance and could impact your term life insurance rates:

Even though tobacco chewing/dipping and smoking cessation techniques and devices are not “smoked” some companies still classify users as smokers. Not all insurance companies are alike though; they rate users differently.

The typical questions on an application asked about tobacco are:

  • Have you used a tobacco product in the last 12 months? (If you are a former user, but quit, you will need to provide how long ago you quit.)
  • What products do you use?
  • How often?

Why can’t I just say I don’t use tobacco?

Some people think that the occasional cigarette on the weekends does not make them a “smoker.”

But, to the insurance industry, it does.

If you falsify your information and say you have never used tobacco, you will be failing to disclose a significant health condition and this is considered insurance fraud. Tobacco usage can be determined from a simple urine test, which is a part of the life insurance medical exam, so don’t lie.

All life insurance policies carry a contestability clause (a two year time period) that allows the insurance company to challenge a death claim in the event of misrepresentation or fraud.  If you die within the first two years as a result of a car accident, for example, and it is discovered that you were a smoker but declared you weren’t on your application, insurance companies have the right to rescind the policy and deny any death benefit payout.

Therefore, it is important to be as accurate as you can on your life insurance application (regardless of whether that means you may pay higher term life insurance rates) to ensure the entire coverage amount (the death benefit) goes to your loved ones.

The potential extra cost now will be worth it in the future.

What is the price difference between a smoker and non-smoker for life insurance?

The insurance price difference when comparing smoker rates to non-smoker rates is pretty significant.

Applicant Monthly Quote
Healthy Male, Age 40
20-Year $200,000
Healthy Male, Age 40
20-Year $200,000

For example, a 40-year old male who does not smoke and is in good health can qualify for a 20-year $200,000 term life insurance policy for under $16 per month. This same policy for a 40-year old male in good health but does smoke is over $67 per month. While that is still a reasonable cost to protect your loved ones, it’s about 4X more than that of a non-smoker.

Whether or not you smoke and how much you smoke puts you into a “risk class” that determines your term life insurance rates. Risk classes are determined during the underwriting process. Underwriting is when the life insurance company assesses the risk of insuring you.

» Learn more: What Is Life Insurance Underwriting?

Risk classes for non-smokers applying for life insurance are typically:

  • Preferred Plus: Applicants are in excellent health and do not participate in high-risk activities, and have a clean family medical history.
  • Preferred: Applicants are in very good health with a minor health, lifestyle, or family history-related issue.
  • Standard Plus: Applicants are in good health with a health, lifestyle, or family history-related issue.
  • Standard: Applicants are in average health but have some issues whether they are health, lifestyle, or family history related.
  • Sub-Standard (normally categorized into “Table” classes): Applicants are in a state of health with one or more chronic illness or they regularly participate in high-risk activities.

Risk classes for smokers applying for life insurance are typically:

  • Preferred Smoker: Applicant uses tobacco products, but otherwise is in excellent health.
  • Standard Smoker: Applicant is in less than perfect health and regularly smokes or uses a tobacco product.


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What if I start smoking after I have a policy inforce?

If you start smoking after you were approved for a non-smoker policy, you indeed were a non-smoker when you applied and cannot be charged with insurance fraud.

The insurance company cannot penalize you for starting up after being approved. For example, even if you die of lung cancer caused by smoking, as long as you were a non-smoker when you were approved for your non-smoker policy, the insurance carrier still pays out the full death benefit.

What if I have a smoker policy and I quit smoking?

If you were approved for a smoker policy, but decided to quit later on you can go back and reapply for a non-smoker policy and your life insurance rates would be adjusted accordingly for any payments moving forward.

However, if during the reapplying process it is determined that other health issues have arisen, they may deny you a reduction for your non-smoking.

The length of time you have been a non-smoker to qualify for a non-smoker policy varies from carrier to carrier, but typically most require you to be smoke-free for 12 months before reapplying. So, once you have been smoke-free for a year, notify your insurance company. They may ask you to do another medical exam to ensure you are free of nicotine.

What if I smoke marijuana?

Many states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and some even for recreational purpose.

This is causing changes in the life insurance industry. Some insurance companies out-right deny coverage for any marijuana use because they view it as an illegal activity and a dangerous and high-risk habit, while others are more lenient.

As with tobacco use, it is very important to be descriptive about any marijuana use when applying for life insurance.

If you are using marijuana for certain serious medical conditions (e.g. cancer or glaucoma) the condition, not the marijuana use, is what the insurance companies take into consideration when underwriting your case.

For people in generally good health but take medicinal marijuana for reasons like back pain or insomnia, a life insurance company may take the marijuana use into consideration when underwriting. Typically the insurer will offer a smoker’s rate to these users, but some insurers will offer non-smoker.

» Learn more: How Does Marijuana Use Affect Life Insurance Rates?

Is it possible to get non-smoker rates if I use a tobacco product?

There are life insurance carriers that will give non-smoking rates to applicants who use tobacco or nicotine products other than cigarettes—as long as certain standards are met.

Example:  Some carriers if they know you use a pipe or smoke cigars occasionally but your urine test is negative for cotinine you can qualify for non-smoker rates.

Example:  Some carriers will offer you non-smoker rates if you only smoke marijuana once a month.
These examples are reasons why it is extremely important to be descriptive about any tobacco or nicotine product use on your application, especially when you are comparing term life insurance rates from companies who may classify smokers differently.

Life insurance is purchased by smokers every day.

Whether you use any tobacco, nicotine, or marijuana product, Quotacy will work together with you to find the right insurance product at the best price for your individual situation. Instead of guessing at the cost, take a look for yourself by running free and anonymous term life insurance rate quotes today.

» Calculate: Life insurance needs calculator


Note: Life insurance quotes used in this article accurate as of December 8, 2021. These are only estimates and your life insurance costs may be higher or lower.


Watch the Tobacco and Life Insurance Video

Video Transcript

Welcome to Quotacy’s Q&A Friday where we answer your life insurance questions. Quotacy is an online life insurance broker where you can get life insurance on your terms.

I’m Jeanna and I’m Natasha.

Today’s question is:
How does tobacco use affect buying life insurance?

The answer to this question is actually more complex than first glance because cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and pipes are all actually viewed differently in the insurance industry.

And not only are the products themselves viewed differently but depending on what insurance company you apply to they also view them differently amongst themselves. And the use of different tobacco products can put you in different risk classes.

Your risk class is what determines how much your life insurance will cost. As you can see in the table, risk classes are divided into non-tobacco and tobacco categories.

Life Insurance Risk Classes
Non-Tobacco Tobacco
Preferred Plus Preferred Tobacco
Preferred Standard Tobacco
Standard Plus

A tobacco risk class has higher premiums compared to non tobacco. It’s no secret that the use of tobacco products can be potentially harmful to your health which is why life insurance companies make you pay higher premiums if you use them. The insurance company you apply to, the tobacco product you use, and how often you use it will affect what you end up paying.

Let’s talk about each product individually now.


First up: cigarettes. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a life insurance company that won’t put you into a tobacco risk class if you smoke cigarettes. The best risk class you can get if you smoke cigarettes is Preferred Tobacco instead of simply Standard Tobacco.

To qualify for Preferred Tobacco you need to meet certain criteria. This criteria changes depending on the insurance company. For example, if you have great cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, if you have no history of cancer in your family, and you exercise regularly these could be enough positive credits to push you from Standard Tobacco to Preferred.

» Learn more: Life Insurance Risk Classes for Cigarette Smokers

Pipe Smoking

Next up: pipe smoking and this one is less black and white than cigarette smoking. Some life insurance companies are willing to offer non-tobacco risk classes to pipe smokers.

Pipe smoking is commonly done as a leisure activity every once in a while and oftentimes users don’t actually inhale so the health risks are less severe compared to that of cigarette smoking. But there are also insurance companies that don’t care and we’ll give you a tobacco risk class no matter how often you smoke a pipe or whether or not you inhale.

Chewing Tobacco

Next up: chewing tobacco. This is similar to pipe smoking in the way that some companies will offer non-tobacco and some will only offer tobacco risk classes. The biggest factor here is how often you chew. For example, if you only chew tobacco once or twice per month and no nicotine is detected in the lab results of your life insurance medical exam, you may qualify for non-tobacco risk classes depending on the insurance company.

» Learn more: What Does a Life Insurance Medical Exam Test For?


And lastly: cigars. If you enjoy the occasional celebratory cigar it shouldn’t be too much of an issue getting offered Preferred Non-Tobacco risk classes.

Many insurance companies are willing to provide non-tobacco risk classes to you even if you smoke cigars once in a while. Just don’t schedule your life insurance medical exam for the day after your big annual poker party. The nicotine showing up in your lab results would likely only let you qualify for a tobacco risk class across most insurance companies.

If you use one of the tobacco products we discussed today, apply through a broker like Quotacy to get the best risk class and rate possible. Here at Quotacy we have access to over 25 different top-rated life insurance companies and can make sure you’re matched with the one that will give you the best possible risk class.

When you apply online through Quotacy, be sure to admit on your application if you use a tobacco product and how often you use it. The more accurate you are, the better your Quotacy agent can match you with the right insurance company.

Screenshot of Quotacy online life insurance application for type of tobacco use

Screenshot of Quotacy online life insurance application for how often you use tobacco

» Compare: Term life insurance quotes

Whether you smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco, or smoke a pipe or cigar we’ll help you get life insurance coverage to protect your loved ones.

If you have any questions about life insurance, make sure to leave us a comment. Otherwise, tune in next week when we talk about life insurance risk factors.

About the writer

Headshot of Natasha Cornelius, a life insurance writer, for Quotacy, Inc.

Natasha Cornelius, CLU

Senior Editor and Life Insurance Expert

Natasha Cornelius, CLU, is a writer, editor, and life insurance researcher for Quotacy.com where her goal is to make life insurance more transparent and easier to understand. She has been in the life insurance industry since 2010 and has been writing about life insurance since 2014. Natasha earned her Chartered Life Underwriter designation in 2022. She is also co-host of Quotacy’s YouTube series. Connect with her on LinkedIn.