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Lying to your life insurance company about your smoking status doing the application process may ultimately result in your loved ones being left with nothing.

Life insurance companies will ask if you smoke on the application because they want to get a complete picture of your life and health. That includes whether you smoke, chew tobacco or use nicotine products.

Life insurers usually don’t differentiate between the type of nicotine. It could be cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco or nicotine-suppression products. An insurer may consider you a smoker if you use e-cigarettes. Vaping often contains nicotine. Plus, even if you’re vaping to quit smoking, insurance companies usually don’t consider that a smoke cessation tool.

Insurers approach tobacco use in various ways. Many policies will allow limited use of cigars, such as a dozen cigars a year, but smoking more cigars could get your considered a smoker.

One might consider you a nonsmoker after no nicotine products for three or five years. Another policy may allow chewing tobacco. Meanwhile, others could give you nonsmoker rates temporarily if you’re trying to kick the habit. Shopping around is the best way to find a policy that works for your particular situation.

Key Takeaways

  • If you lie about your smoking habits on the application, you will be classified as a smoker if your insurance company finds out.
  • The insurance company may reject the death benefit and not pay your survivors if an autopsy finds out about any smoking-related illnesses.
  • Whatever life insurer you choose, be honest on your application.

What happens if you lie about smoking on your life insurance application?

Hide smoking from life insurance

Lying on your application isn’t a good idea.

The application will ask you if you’ve smoked for a specific length of time, such as 12 months. The insurer will also ask you how much you smoke. A one-pack-a-day smoker may pay higher rates than a person who smokes one cigarette after dinner. The insurer will still classify you as a smoker regardless.

Life insurance policies generally require a medical exam. Tests will look for nicotine that’s usually in a person’s bloodstream for three days. They’ll also search for cotinine, a nicotine byproduct. Cotinine is in the bloodstream longer.

There are no-exam policies that allow you to sidestep exams. That said, it’s still not wise to lie on your application.

If an autopsy finds smoking-related illnesses, the insurer may reject the death benefit and not pay your survivors, meaning all the money you paid for a policy amounted to nothing.

How do insurance companies check if you smoke? 

When you apply for life insurance, the insurance companies check if you smoke in two ways. First, they will ask you during the phone interview if you smoke or use any tobacco products and when was the last time you used them. 

Second, the insurance company will conduct a medical exam that tests for nicotine as well as cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine. Nicotine stays in the bloodstream for a day or two, while cotinine stays in the bloodstream for close to a week. 

What if you start smoking after getting life insurance?

You should notify your insurer if you have a nonsmoker policy, but start smoking later.

Why? It goes back to the possibility that you die and an autopsy finds a smoking-related illness. The insurer could reject the death penalty because you claimed to be a nonsmoker.

However, your insurer cannot charge you higher rates if you picked up the habit after you bought coverage. Your rates are locked in.

What if you stop smoking?

Being classified as a smoker when you apply for life insurance isn’t a life sentence. Your insurer may re-classify you as a nonsmoker if you’re able to kick the habit for good.

Many insurers will want you to quit tobacco for at least a year before considering you a nonsmoker. The insurance company may request another medical exam to prove your status.

However, don’t delay life insurance until you quit smoking. It can take more than a year to kick nicotine effectively. If you wait, you may have to pay a higher rate anyway because you’re older.

Life insurance rates for smokers

Smoking and tobacco use can lead to much higher rates, especially if you’re middle-aged. An insurer looks at a 50-year-old smoker differently than a 30-year-old smoker. The younger person has a better chance to quit than a 50-year-old who’s smoked for 20 more years.

That’s why a 30-year-old smoker has much lower rates than a 50-year-old smoker.

Here are the average annual premiums for $250,000 term life death benefits for a smoker classified as “Regular” health.

Health profile and term lengthAge 30Age 40Age 50Age 60
Female 10-year term$439$692$1,487$3,088
Female 20-year term$672$1,190$2,393$5,243
Female 30-year term$915$1,656$3,700$13,030*
Male 10-year term$554$865$1,968$4,422
Male 20-year term$828$1,492$3,179$7,113
Male 30-year term$1,171$2,155$4,519$13,030*

*Limited quotes available. Data source: Compulife Quotation System as of December 2020.

As you can see, smoker rates can put a dent in your wallet. Insurers charge much more for smokers because of the risks associated with smoking. Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S. An insurance company doesn’t want to risk an early death benefit, so it will charge you more.

How long should you be smoke-free for life insurance? 

Typically, if you haven’t smoked for a minimum of 12 months you are not considered a smoker by life insurance companies and can get life insurance at the same rates as those for non-smokers. 

The time period to be nicotine-free varies from one company to another. Hence, it is better to check with your insurer about the time period to be nicotine free before finalizing your policy. Additionally, there are some companies that allow you to smoke an occasional cigar — the limit of the number of cigars you can smoke a year depends on your company. 

How to buy life insurance if you’re a smoker

Getting a term life insurance policy can be a wise financial decision for your family. You can start by entering your information into our life insurance advisor to see what’s best for your situation. You can also check out our life insurance calculator to find how much you need.

As we mentioned earlier, insurers differ on how they classify nonsmokers and smokers. So, it’s a good idea to shop around, get quotes from multiple insurance companies and find the right policy for you.

No matter what life insurer you choose make sure you’re truthful on your application. You don’t want to lie about smoking and potentially leave your loved ones without a life insurance benefit.

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to tell my life insurance company if I start smoking?

No, it is not mandatory to inform your insurer if you start smoking after purchasing the policy. It will not affect the price of the policy because once a policy is issued, an insurer cannot raise prices for any changes in your lifestyle.

Do life insurance companies test for nicotine? 

Yes, life insurance companies test for both nicotine and cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine. They test for both substances during the medical exam through your blood and urine samples. If you test positive for either of these you will be considered a smoker and pay smoker prices.  

Does smoking void a life insurance policy? 

Smoking will only void if you lied and the insurer finds out during the contestability period. But if you start smoking after, that is different. The key thing is that the individual can’t lie.

How long can nicotine be detected for insurance? 

Usually, the sign of nicotine or any tobacco products can last for a week in the bloodstream, while it can be detected in the urine samples for up to a month.

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Prachi Singh
Contributing Researcher


Prachi is an insurance writer with a master’s degree in business administration. Through her writing, she hopes to help readers make smart and informed decisions about their finances. She loves to travel and write poetry.