What Is a Non-Smoker for Insurance Purposes?

A woman's hands breaking a cigarette in half.
A woman's hands breaking a cigarette in half. (Image: ansar80/iStock/Getty Images)

When calculating life insurance premiums, insurance companies take into account several factors, such as age, gender and health. When assessing your health, the insurer wants to know whether you are a smoker and, if you are not, whether you ever have been. This is because the life expectancy of a smoker is lower than that of a non-smoker.

Definition of a Non-Smoker

When insurers first distinguished between smokers and non-smokers, they often specified cigarette smoking in their definition of a smoker. However, this definition has evolved over time to include the use of any tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco and snuff. Nicotine-replacement products such as gum and patches also may be included in the definition.

Even if you no longer use tobacco products, an insurer may still classify you as a smoker if you have been a tobacco user within a certain time frame, usually a period of at least 12 months and sometimes longer; the period may vary among insurers.

Do Smokers Pay More for Life Insurance?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokers, on average, die 14 years earlier than non-smokers. Compared with non-smokers, smokers are 10 times more likely to die of emphysema or bronchitis, and smoking increases threefold their chances of dying of heart disease. Male smokers are more than 22 times and female smokers are nearly 12 times as likely to die of lung cancer than non-smokers. Insurers charge higher premiums to smokers than non-smokers because there is a higher risk of having to pay out.

Other Insurance

Smokers not only die sooner than non-smokers, they also run a higher risk of needing medical care. Non-smoker discounts on health insurance are not as widespread, nor as significant, as those available on life insurance policies, but they are available. Many health insurers define a non-smoker as someone who has not used tobacco products for at least 12 months.

Non-smokers can even find discounts on home insurance because of a reduced fire risk. Auto insurance too, not only because of the lower fire risk but because smoking while driving increases the risk of an accident.

Be Honest

When applying for insurance, it may be tempting not to disclose your status as a smoker to take advantage of any non-smoker discount. This is unwise, as insurers use nicotine testing that shows whether you are a smoker. If you have taken out an insurance policy as a non-smoker and you subsequently become a smoker, be sure to inform your insurer to avoid a possibility of invalidating any future claim.

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