News & Views

Smoking and Life Insurance

At this time of year, many people are sticking to their New Year’s resolutions and, for some, giving up smoking is one of the biggest challenges. Quitting smoking is beneficial to your health, but how does it affect your Life Insurance?

1. Smokers pay higher premiums than non-smokers – but how much higher?

For a new life insurance policy, a 30-year-old can typically expect to pay 66% more, a 45-year-old 112% more and a 60-year-old 136% more. Proof (if proof were needed) that smoking is not good for your health or your wealth! For further information on the Health Risks Of Smoking (NHS).

2. What about ex-smokers taking out a new Life Insurance policy – how are they dealt with?

Broadly speaking, it will depend on how long ago the applicant gave up smoking. For a life insurance company to charge a non-smoker rates, the period since last smoking needs to be least 12 months. ‘Non-smoking’ in life insurance company terms means no use of any tobacco or nicotine products for 12 months, which even includes E-cigarettes, patches or gums.

A ‘social smoker’ or occasional smoker is still classed as a smoker – and charged as a smoker!

3. Can insurance companies test for smoking?

Yes. The test used is called a cotinine test and a life insurance company can request such a test as part of their assessment process for a life insurance application.

Indeed, if the insurer requires you to attend a nurse screening or medical exam as part of the process, and you’ve told them you’re a non-smoker, they will test you at that time anyway. In addition to this, many peoples’ GP medical records contain information about their smoking habits.

4. What if someone is now an ex-smoker, but they have an existing Life Insurance policy taken out while they were still a smoker?

There may be the potential to get a lower premium rate – but it won’t happen automatically, and you will need to take action in order to explore this potential option. Some companies will, if requested, be prepared to alter the premium on your existing plan from smoker to non-smoker rates, once they have satisfied themselves of your non-smoking status (12 months non-smoking – and expect to be asked to do a cotinine test).

However, the majority of insurance companies will not be prepared to change your existing policy terms and therefore in order to obtain non-smoker premium rates you will need to make a fresh application. It is very important that if you do make a new application that you do not cancel your existing policy until the new policy has started. This is because a new application means a fresh assessment, taking into account your age (obviously you will be older) and any changes in your health. Remember that, for some people, these factors could make the final ‘non-smoker’ premium for the new application more expensive than the old policy ‘smoker’ premium rate. Indeed, in a few cases, health changes might be so significant that a new policy is not available.

5. If someone is thinking about giving up smoking – is it best for them to wait until they become a non-smoker before applying for life insurance?

No. Waiting is a big mistake and could cost you dearly! Nobody likes paying more than they need to and you might be tempted to wait until premiums become cheaper.

But there are a number of risks with this approach:

Firstly, and most importantly, waiting until you qualify for non smoker premium rates leaves your loved ones with no cover and still fully exposed to the financial consequences of you dying before you complete the qualifying conditions for non-smoker premium rates.

Secondly, changes to your health might occur before qualifying for non smoker premium rates, which could mean that the cost of cover actually increases and, in the worst cases, becomes unavailable – which could amount to a potential disaster.

Thirdly, as a smoker today you don’t know how long in reality it may take you to complete a full continuous period 12 months of non-smoking. When will you quit? How long will you use nicotine substitutes? Will you have an occasional cigarette? For some, despite their good intentions, they may never reach a point where they have not smoked or used any nicotine replacement products for 12 months.

If higher premium rates for smoking are a real concern then rather than doing nothing it is better to consider taking out a lower amount of cover now, with a view to reviewing the amount of cover as and when non smoker premium rates become available.

Tips for smokers applying for Life Insurance:

  • Honestly disclose your smoking status when applying for life insurance.
  • Don’t delay applying in the hope of qualifying as a non smoker at some stage in the future.
  • If you become a non smoker, review your protection cover, you could save a lot of money.

It’s worth also remembering that the potential longer term consequences of smoking involve a greater risk of certain health conditions, several of which (such as heart attack, lung cancer, other cancers, stroke, etc.) are potentially claimable conditions for Critical Illness insurance policies.

What is generally not realised nor fully understood is that millions of people in the UK are unable to obtain a Critical Illness policy due to an existing health condition. We tend to pick up health conditions as we age and smoking increases the risk of certain health conditions. So, for smokers, it might well be a good idea to consider taking out Critical Illness Insurance sooner rather than later – especially for younger smokers, for whom premium rates are often significantly lower compared to older smokers.

January 29th, 2016

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