Warnings about the harm posed by cigarettes have been issued for decades. Rules were even introduced to ban tobacco advertising and prevent smoking in enclosed spaces.
But millions of people still take up the habit every year. Even the increased risk of developing life-changing diseases isn’t a deterrent.
But there’s also a financial price to pay. We take a look at how being a smoker could affect your chances of getting a life insurance policy.
Can you get life insurance if you smoker?
Yes, you can still get life insurance if you smoke or vape. But you’re likely to pay more because of the increased risk to your health.
At the very least, you might need to answer questions from insurers who want to assess the potential long-term damage to your health. They may also need your medical history for further information.
This means you might have to shop around more to find companies willing to provide a cheaper policy.
Some insurers might only charge you a little bit more if you’re an irregular smoker. But if you’re getting through several packs of cigarettes a day, you’re likely to pay more.
Life insurance expert at Confused.com, Louise Thomas, comments:
"Our research shows that 1 in 6 (16%) smokers in the UK* don't feel that they need life insurance. But it acts as a great safety blanket in case anything does happen, especially if your lifestyle habits could impact your health. Although smoking can have a significant impact on the cost, it's so important to have life insurance in place and be honest when declaring any health conditions or lifestyle choices, especially if you have dependents."
Is smoking still a problem?
Despite government health warnings, 13.3% of adults still smoke on a regular basis, according to the most recent official figures compiled in 2021. That’s around 6.6 million people in the UK.
Despite the seemingly high numbers, this is the lowest proportion of smokers since records started in 2011. But while the number of smokers is lower, vaping has started to increase.
According to the public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), 7.1% of the adult population in Great Britain used e-cigarettes in 2021. This equates to 3.6 million people aged 18 and over. In 2020, this number was slightly lower at 3.2 million.
If you're considering quitting, know that smoking tobacco isn't just expensive but also potentially fatal. Another report by ASH found that smoking accounts for approximately 74,600 deaths a year in England.
More broadly, ASH states that the global yearly death toll as a result of tobacco use is around 7 million. This includes exposure to second-hand smoke. But even with the health risks, the legal global tobacco market is worth around US$818bn, according to British American Tobacco.
There currently isn't enough data to fully understand the long-term effects vaping has on your body.
Why does smoking affect life insurance?
Insurance companies look at several factors when calculating life insurance costs. Their aim is to make a judgement on your health and how long you might live.
Therefore, anything that could have an adverse effect on your life expectancy is considered.
- Dangerous jobs
- Risky hobbies
- Genetic conditions
- Alcohol use
The health dangers posed by nicotine and the chemicals inside cigarettes mean applicants who smoke are at greater risk of disease and death.
Research has shown it causes or is linked to:
- Lung cancer
- Respiratory disease
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Cancers in the lips, mouth, throat, bladder, kidney, stomach, liver and cervix
Is vaping classed as smoking for life insurance?
Most insurers put vaping in the same class as smoking, along with chewing nicotine gum or wearing a nicotine patch. This is likely due to the fact that the effects of vaping and e-cigarettes are still being researched.
Despite being advertised as a safer alternative to cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, there are factors still being investigated.
According to the British Heart Foundation, more research is needed on the long-term impact of vaping – especially on your heart and blood vessels.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, said:
“Just because e-cigarettes may be less harmful than tobacco, doesn’t mean they're completely safe.”
How much extra do smokers pay for life insurance?
This varies between insurance companies. It also depends on:
Your medical history
How long you’ve been smoking/vaping
If you still smoke/vape or have given up
How often you smoke/vape
All of these factors are looked at when you apply for life insurance. But the financial penalty is likely to be harsher for older smokers.
Research by Bupa discovered that, on average, smoking reduces your life expectancy by 10 years. And every year you smoke reduces your life expectancy by 3 months after the age of 40. It's factors like this that result in higher life insurance costs as your health is severely affected.
If you want to reduce your insurance costs and improve your health, it’s definitely worth considering quitting.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the amounts charged vary between insurers. This is why it’s always important to do your research and compare life insurance policies before making a decision.
But make sure you compare carefully. Some policies might appear cheaper but this could be because they don’t offer the same level of cover.
Start a life insurance quote
I have the occasional cigarette. So, am I a smoker?
You might not class yourself as a smoker if you only have 1 or 2 on a night out. But you’re much more likely to be seen as one in the eyes of insurance companies.
Most insurers believe that you’re a smoker if you've had any type of nicotine in the past 12 months - even just 1 cigarette.
If you’re not addicted or have the willpower to give up, then it’s worth considering quitting before applying for life insurance.
Even if your initial costs are still high, at least you’re working toward a healthier and financially better lifestyle.
I’ve quit smoking. Will this affect my life insurance?
Quitting smoking could reduce your life insurance costs but not immediately.
You might not be able to amend your life insurance policy midway through. To update your smoking terms, you may have to arrange a new policy instead. Make sure you check the terms and conditions carefully before signing.
Many life insurance companies require you to be nicotine-free for at least 12 months before they can lower your rates. Others may wait until you've stopped smoking or using nicotine for over 5 years.
Some insurers may also require proof that you've quit. For example, they could ask your GP to provide an update on your overall health.
In some cases, they might want to see a chest x-ray as part of their investigations. It’s worth checking the policy with individual insurance companies as they’re likely to vary.
What are the benefits of quitting smoking?
Quitting smoking can bring financial benefits. The average smoker who goes through 10 cigarettes a day spends £40 a week on tobacco, according to Make Smoking History. If you quit smoking, this means you could save over £2,000 a year.
Alongside the financial benefits is the boost that giving up provides to your health. When you stop, your lungs have the chance to slowly repair themselves, according to NHS advice.
Some positive effects could even be felt quickly
- After 8 hours: Your oxygen levels should start recovering and your breathing should feel easier.
- After 48 hours: All carbon monoxide is flushed out of your system and both your taste and sense of smell improve.
- After 72 hours: Your energy may start to increase.
- After 1 year: You halve your risk of suffering a heart attack when compared to a smoker. This is also when you may have the prospect of cheaper life insurance costs.
How do life insurance companies know whether you smoke?
You should be asked on the application form if you smoke or vape and if you’ve done so in the past. You need to be specific and accurate with your answers.
If you're a smoker, you're likely to be asked about your smoking habit. For example, they might want to know how many years you’ve smoked and whether that's been continuous.
They might also be interested to know what you smoked and how much. For example, were you a 20-a-day cigarette smoker, or did you have 1 regular cigar after dinner?
Linked to this are questions about your general lifestyle and exercise. This includes whether your health has been adversely affected by smoking.
What happens if I lie about smoking to my life insurance provider?
Lying on your insurance application is never worth the risk.
If your insurer discovers you’re smoking or vaping when you’ve said otherwise, they might refuse to pay out. If your family makes a life insurance claim after you die, it could be refused.
Even if they do agree to pay out a sum, it could be significantly less than it would have been.
The truth may come out, especially with our widespread use of social media, which now makes it increasingly difficult to keep anything a secret.
What else should I be aware of as a smoker?
It’s vital that you read the terms and conditions of your life insurance policy carefully before signing any agreement.
Check that all the information you’ve given your insurer is correct to the best of your knowledge.
Make sure you also understand the policy wording and your obligations. For example, it could have a caveat in place for those who start smoking after arranging the policy.
While your policy is based on the information provided at the time of application, some insurers require you to tell them that you’ve started smoking. In fact, informing the insurance company could be a condition of the policy and any failure to do so might invalidate it.
If there’s anything you don’t understand, then clarify this with the insurance company. It’s better to do so now than risk your estate not getting the payout.
*Figures taken from omnibus research carried out by OnePoll on behalf of Confused.com. This was a nationally-representative poll of 2,000 UK adults conducted between 3 and 12 August 2022.