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Ask the Life Insurance Expert

Do I qualify for non-smoker life insurance rates if I smoke one cigarette a day?

Congratulations on cutting back on cigarettes. Unfortunately, you haven't really quit. One cigarette a day is far too many to be considered a non-smoker. In fact, many life insurance companies consider you a smoker if you've used nicotine in the last five years.

Smokers pay higher life insurance rates in their classes because of the health risks smoking poses. Insurers consider a "nicotine user" as someone who uses any form for nicotine delivery, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, a nicotine patch and nicotine gum.

Some insurers allow occasional cigar smokers to get non-smoking rates, but occasional is usually defined as no more than 12 cigars a year.

Don't plan on fudging about your smoking when you get life insurance quotes, or on the application. The urine sample you provide for the medical exam will reveal nicotine if you've smoked recently, and you'll be charged the smoker's rate. Quitting temporarily to pass the exam is a bad idea, too. Lying could jeopardize the payout to your beneficiaries if the insurance company learns you were a longtime smoker but claimed to be a nonsmoker on the application. And if you think can cheat the system by simply going to another company to qualify as a non-smoker, think again. Your medical exam records stay in a database operated by MIB Group for seven years. Insurers check the database against your application, so your results will come up even if you're applying to a different company.

Paying the extra cost for life insurance is worth the peace of mind that your beneficiaries will be taken care of. Meanwhile, don't let this discourage you from efforts to minimize smoking or to quit eventually. Read more about hiding smoking from life insurance companies.

Last updated: Sep. 6, 2010