How does life insurance know if you smoke?

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Here's what you need to know...
  • Life insurance rates are based on age, gender, health issues, hobbies and ultimately on your life expectancy
  • Studies show that tobacco use does have a direct affect on your health and also shortens life expectancy over time
  • When you’re applying for life insurance, your policy needs to be underwritten to verify that you’re in good health and that you don’t have bad lifestyle habits
  • Applicants who submit their application will be asked if and when they’ve smoked or chewed tobacco within the last 12 months
  • To verify that you’re being honest on your application, the company will order you to submit to an oral swab test to will measure the presence of tobacco in your saliva

Most children are shown the long-term effects of smoking in school. While the images of a healthy lung and smokers lung can certainly hit a chord, it’s important that young adults learn how smoking can impact both their health and their financial future. Since there comes a time in your life that you’ll need life insurance, you should learn about the direct effect that tobacco use has on your ability to secure life insurance and how much you’ll pay for coverage.

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As you apply for coverage, you’re asked several questions about your past, present, and future. Some of these questions involve tobacco use. While you can easily say you haven’t smoked in years, your answers to these tobacco use underwriting questions can be verified. Read on and find out how life insurance companies know you smoke, why tobacco use is a red flag to insurers, and what you can do lower your rates.

Life Insurance Rates Are Based on Your Life Expectancy

Life insurance companies spend a fortune doing studies, reviewing claims statistics, and conducting research on what impacts a person’s life expectancy.

The purpose of this investment is to learn what might lower life expectancy and increase a named insured’s chances of filing a death claim.

Gender can affect your life expectancy, but there are also other factors that companies will look at. If you want to know what companies are specifically looking at, here are some of the factors that affect how long you’re expected to live based on the numbers:

  • Height and weight
  • Smoking status
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Driving record
  • Health status of family

What type of effect does your smoking status have on life expectancy?

You might know that smoking status affects your health, but you might not know just how much of an impact it has. According to studies that have been conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, someone who’s been smoking for an extended period of time can expect to shave an average of 10 years off of their life expectancy.

If you suffer from other medical conditions on top off the effects that smoking can have on you, your life expectancy can be shortened even more. This is why life insurance companies place so much importance on your smoking status and have even developed tobacco rates specifically used for people who are actively smoking when they apply for coverage. Tobacco rates can be affordable but they are higher than rates for non-smokers.

When do you need to disclose that you smoke?

You should disclose your smoking habit as soon as you request a quote for coverage. If you don’t disclose that you currently smoke or that you just recently quit, your rates can change dramatically after you apply and your application has been underwritten. If you don’t tell the agent quoting you that you smoke but you do answer the application questions honestly, know that your quoted premiums and premiums after issuance will be different.

What will you be asked on your life insurance application?

It’s important that you’re as honest as possible on your application. If you’re not honest and a claim is filed under the policy, it could be denied for material representation. The questions that you’re asked are very specific. Here’s what you can expect to find on the paperwork you fill out:

  • Do you currently smoke tobacco or e-cigarettes?
  • Do you currently chew tobacco?
  • How often do you smoke or chew tobacco?
  • Are you using a nicotine patch or nicotine gum?
  • Have you recently quit using tobacco within the past 12 months?

How are your answers verified after you complete your application?

It’d be nice if insurance companies would take your word for it when you answer underwriting questions, but it’s too easy for applicants to lie if that were the case. This is why companies assign underwriters to applications to verify all of the information that’s provided.

In most cases, the application process starts by requiring you to sign disclosures stating that the company can order lab tests and run your medical records.

After the company reviews information reported by the Medical Information Bureau, you’ll need to report for a paramedical exam. It’s a combination of the information found in your records and in your results that’s used to determine rates.

What is the medical exam looking for?

If you’re young at the time of application, the company will only require a basic exam. The paramedical service will check your height, weight, and vitals. They may also require you to provide your urine for testing. At the end of the exam, the mobile nurse will give you an oral swab test where they’ll collect your saliva.

What does the oral swab exam tell the insurance company?

When the saliva is sent to the labs to be tested, the company will look for all sorts of things. One of the major things that’s tested for is the presence of cotinine, which is the chemical the body makes from nicotine. The company will also look for the presence of illegal drugs, your level of hydration, and whether or not you’re HIV positive. If the results are inconclusive, you might be required to do a blood exam for more accurate results.

What types of rates can you be charged as a smoker?

Depending on your age, body mass, and health status, you can either be charged preferred smoker or standard smoker rates. If you have risky habits other than smoking, it’s possible that you could have a table rated tobacco rate with extremely high rates.

Table ratings happen when you don’t fall into a category because of your risk classification but you aren’t disqualified from receiving coverage.

One way or another, a life insurance company will find out that you smoke. Be sure to be upfront and honest when you’re applying for coverage. Prepare for your exam by getting rest, drinking plenty of water, and abstaining from greasy foods, sugar or caffeine. By doing all of this, you can ensure that nothing offsets your results and affects your rates. Start comparing rates online with a quoting tool today, and then you can apply for coverage. Compare life insurance rates now by entering your zip code in our FREE tool below!

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