The data is in, and the research is pretty unequivocal. Smoking significantly shortens your lifespan and negatively impacts virtually every aspect of everyday health. There are exceptions to just about every rule, like the 85-year-old who’s been smoking their entire life and somehow avoided lung cancer or emphysema, but unquestionably smoking will impact your life insurance rates. If you used to smoke years ago, or recently quit, it isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Those actions to live a healthier lifestyle can positively impact the coverage rates you would qualify for. But first, the data…

Impacts of quitting: The Good

Quitting smoking at anytime can improve overall health and reduce risk of premature mortality. Stopping before the age of 40 is particularly impactful in later health outcomes, as the risk of mortality from a smoking related cause will decrease by up to 90%. Smokers who quit between the ages of 45-54 can gain up to six years of life, while those who quit between the ages of 55-64 can gain an additional four years.

Health Impacts of smoking: The Bad

Smokers are three times more likely to die year over year, (of any cause) than people who have never smoked, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Regular smoking as an adult will, on average, shorten your life by about 10 years. Smokers are 25-30 times more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers, and smoking is implicated in 80-90% of lung cancer deaths. Smoking is also the leading cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), an incurable, chronic condition which causes breathing difficulties, disability and even death. Male smokers are 17x more likely to get COPD and female smokers 12x more likely than non-smokers. Smoking increases the risk of dying from heart disease by 4x for men and 5x for women.

Even if it doesn’t kill you smoking can negatively impact your quality of life. Smoking lowers bone density (making fractures more likely), exacerbates symptoms of diabetes, causes gum disease, impedes healing and increases risk of respiratory illnesses such as cold and bronchitis.

But I don’t smoke that much…

The rate of people who smoke socially, only occasionally or just few cigarettes a day is increasing. Is it safer to smoke less than a lot? The simple answer is that it depends. The risk of cardiovascular disease is the same for heavy and light smokers. The risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes smoked, so light smokers technically have a lower risk than heavier smokers, but light smoking can still increase respiratory illnesses, decrease bone density and lower energy levels when compared to nonsmokers.

But some people smoke for years … and nothing ‘bad’ happens to them. It is true that a few lucky people do beat the odds with smoking and manage to live long and, more or less, healthy lives. Scientists have recently discovered that a few fortunate individuals are born with a genetic variation that helps to protect their lungs from the ravages of smoking and make them less likely to get COPD than other heavy smokers. There may be other protective genes that make certain people less likely to develop other illnesses typically associated with smoking as well, but unfortunately this isn’t data that can be used by consumers (and therefore life insurers) at this point, so for the best health outcomes come by quitting smoking.

Smokings Impacts on Life Insurance Rates: The Ugly

There is no doubt that almost any type of smoking (cigarettes, cigars, vaping, etc.) will raise your rates on life insurance, but there are ways you can make sure you get the best deals for your particular situation.

Smokers typically pay 2-4x as much as non-smokers, depending on their age at the time the policy is issued. A 30-year-old smoker will pay less than a 50-year-old smoker because he is younger, less likely to die in a given term period, and has more years to quit. Older smokers will pay significantly higher rates, is it is assumed they are closer to reaching their mortality than younger individuals, and may have fewer term policy options than their non-smoking counter parts.

Each insurance treats smoking a little differently, so it pays to shop around and look into several different options. For example, some companies consider occasional cigar smokers or e-cigarette users to be non-smokers and others don’t. If you smoke now, but are seriously planning to quit you may consider getting a shorter term policy (such as a 10 year) so that you’re covered in the short term and buying another policy after you have quit for more than 12 months. Life insurance goes up according to age as well, so waiting until you quit for good might not be the best option.

Lying about your current smoking habits in order to get lower rates is NOT advised. Lying on an insurance application is fraud, which can result in the cancelation of your policy and potential legal repercussions. Policies that require medical underwriting will test for nicotine in both your urine and blood. You can choose to purchase a no-exam policy, but these rates are commonly more expensive than most smoking rates because the policy assumes applicants are attempting to hide one or more negative health issues that would impact their long term health. Also if you die of a smoking related cause within the first two years of having a non-smoking policy, the insurance company may refuse to pay the benefits.

Life Insurance Rates Improve 12 Months After You Quit: The Silver Lining

For individuals that smoke, the best way to improve health and life insurance coverage ability or rates is by quitting or reducing smoking, no matter the age. If you’ve tried to quit in the past and haven’t succeeded, keep trying. Several sources indicate it can take 8 to 30 tries to really kick the habit for good. Medical and mental health professionals recommend that if you want to quit, ask for help. Don’t beat yourself up or let guilt weigh you down as you keep trying. If you quit smoking you’ll not only improve your health but potentially be able to qualify for non-smoking rates as soon as 12 months of smoking abstinence. An insurance agent can work with the good news to reward the proactive steps you’ve taken to live a healthier life.