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How many years of your life will you lose to smoking?

If you're a smoker and you have life insurance -- or are currently looking for life insurance quotes -- you probably already know that life insurance rates are far more costly for those who light up than for people who don't.

Tobacco use is one of the risk factors insurance companies have used for decades when issuing health and life insurance rates.

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From the insurance industry's standpoint, the case for charging smokers substantially higher premiums is pretty clear. The likelihood of death for a smoker is statistically greater at every age.

Life insurance rates hinge on gender, age, your health, the face value of the policy, the type of insurance and other factors, according to James Miles, a consulting staff fellow at the Society of Actuaries. Even the definition “ a smoker” can vary by life insurance company, Miles says.

For instance, an applicant who seeks life insurance quotes at one insurer may be rated as a smoker for indulging in the occasional celebratory cigarette or cigar; yet a different insurer may classify that same person as a nonsmoker.

smokers life insurance rates

Some smokers' rights advocates  say they fear there will be more financial and political backlash against smokers now that the government is forcing cigarette makers to put nine graphic warning labels on cigarette packages by the fall of 2012.

"I don't disagree that smoking might raise the risk to one's health and that it's not entirely ill-conceived to charge a higher [insurance] rate, but how high?" asks Audrey Silk, founder of the New York City-based Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH).

"In my opinion, insurance companies take advantage of the manufactured hysteria over smoking, using the opportunity to charge a disproportionate rate to the actual risk," says Silk.

How smoking impacts life expectancy

The Society of Actuaries periodically conducts "experience studies" that quantify the mortality rates of people who've bought individual life insurance policies. The latest study was published in 2010. As the chart below indicates, smoking can take several years off your life.

For example, if you're a 40-year-old female who smokes, your nicotine habit is expected to shave 6.5 years off your life. For a 40-year-old male smoker, life expectancy is reduced by nearly 7 years.

"Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., causing an estimated 440,000 deaths a year," says Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association.

Female

Expected Age at Death

Difference (in Years)

Current Age

Nonsmoker

Smoker

30

84.5

78.1

-6.4

40

84.8

78.3

-6.5

50

85.2

79.0

-6.2

60

86.1

80.5

-5.6

70

87.6

83.3

-4.3

80

90.5

88.1

-2.4

Male

Expected Age at Death

Difference (in Years)

Current Age

Nonsmoker

Smoker

30

81.8

75.0

-6.8

40

82.2

75.4

-6.8

50

82.9

76.5

-6.4

60

84.0

78.3

-5.7

70

85.8

81.6

-4.2

80

89.1

86.8

-2.3

Fortunately, the news isn't all bad when it comes to smoking, your health and even your life insurance rates.

If you stop smoking, your risk of dying decreases greatly, and does so fairly quickly. In fact, after a year or so of refraining from smoking, an ex-smoker starts to have a life expectancy rate that's fairly evenly matched with a nonsmoker. That's why, if you're getting life insurance quotes, insurers typically require no  tobacco use for 12 months prior your life insurance application to be considered for nonsmoker life insurance rates.

"This time period does not necessarily imply that all the potential effects of smoking have disappeared, but only that, on average, a sufficient amount of the effects of smoking have disappeared that the likelihood of death at each age is sufficiently close to that of a nonsmoker that nonsmoker premium rates can be used," says Miles.

This holds true whether you've been smoking for a few years or a few decades.

Consequently, "if a person needs life insurance they should not delay the purchase until after they have stopped smoking in order to get lower premium rates," Miles recommends. "When they stop smoking and then qualify for nonsmoker rates they can at that time apply to replace their insurance, either at the same life insurance company or another life insurance company, at nonsmoker premium rates."

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