Ask the Life Insurance Expert

I quit smoking three months ago after smoking about half a dozen cigarettes a day for 12 years. I want to buy term life insurance. Do I list myself as a smoker or nonsmoker on the application?

Kicking the habit is a great way to increase your chances for getting better life insurance quotes, but you probably need to be smoke-free for a bit longer before you qualify for term life nonsmoker rates. Life insurance companies vary in how they decide whether you're a smoker. But generally companies don't consider you a nonsmoker until you've abstained from tobacco for at least a year. Some companies are even more strict.

The application will ask you questions about tobacco use, and it's best to answer honestly. For instance, the company may ask if you've ever used any tobacco or nicotine product. If you answer yes, the company will ask for details -- what type of tobacco product you used, and when, how much and how often. Whether you are rated a smoker will depend on the those answers.

In addition to asking about your health and lifestyle habits on applications, life insurers use blood, urine or saliva tests to get scientific data. Insurance companies tend to rely on saliva tests, also called swab tests, for younger applicants and for customers applying for lower face amounts of coverage.

The lab tests the sample for a chemical called cotinine, which the body makes from nicotine. How many days do you have to quit smoking to get a clean lab test? The answer depends on a variety of factors, including body fat percentage, hydration, and how much you smoked. But it can range from days to, in rare cases, a couple of months.

For more, see When the smoke clears, will your life insurance quotes be high? and Open wide: Oral swab testing tells life insurance companies how healthy you are.

Last updated: Apr. 30, 2012
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