How Do Insurance Companies Test for Nicotine?

  • A nicotine habit can wreak havoc on your overall health and significantly shorten your life. So it isn't surprising that almost all life insurance companies charge higher premiums to smokers than they do non-smokers. Insurers require applicants to take physicals prior to coverage with comprehensive urine and blood tests that include screenings for nicotine.

The Tests

  • There are various ways that insurance companies can test for nicotine use and there is much debate regarding the length of time that nicotine remains in your system. Some say it should be out within 72 hours of your last exposure, while others say that it may remain in your system at detectable levels for weeks. And the method that you use to get your nicotine is really irrelevant. However, what can have an impact on the results of a test for nicotine is the type of test administered.

    For instance, a urine test that is used to detect cotinine (a metabolic byproduct of nicotine processing), typically has a maximum detection of four days. In other words, if the person taking the test hasn't smoked in the last 96 hours, the urine test cannot detect it. Blood tests also have a similar time frame although some can detect nicotine/cotinine up to five to seven days from use.

    Saliva testing is a more expensive method that isn't normally used by insurance companies when assessing customers. Typically, saliva tests can detect nicotine/cotinine levels up to seven to 10 days from actual use.

    Finally, the most effective method for testing nicotine use is by sampling a person's hair. This test can detect nicotine levels up to 10 or more days from use. That being said, the hair test is almost never used by insurance companies for several reasons. First, this is the most expensive testing method for detecting nicotine. Furthermore, insurance companies often assume that a normal smoker would have a very difficult time quitting smoking for a period of 10 or more days simply to pass a nicotine test. Consequently, the majority of insurance companies rely on urine, blood or saliva tests.


  • There are products available that claim to have the ability to help smokers pass a nicotine screening. However, providing false information on an insurance application is insurance fraud. It could result in criminal prosecution if it is discovered. When you are filling out your insurance questionnaire, it is important to be honest. If your answers are contradicted by the results of your physical exam, you could be denied coverage or even prosecuted for fraud if your coverage has already begun.

Acceptable Levels

  • Sometimes, the amount of coverage you are applying for will affect how closely your health is scrutinized. Many small policies (up to $100,000) do not even require physical exams. However, if you are looking for a large amount of life insurance (over $100,000), you can expect that your prospective insurer will want to administer an exam. There will probably be no acceptable level of nicotine for customers who are in the market for "non-smoker" insurance rates. It is important to realize that regardless of the coverage amount your are requesting, insurance companies still retain the right to test for smoking.

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