How Do Insurance Companies Test for Nicotine?

You'll need to have been smoke-free for 12 months to qualify as a nonsmoker.
i David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Smokers typically die 13 to 14 years younger than nonsmokers, according the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention. For every person who dies from a smoking-related disease, 20 more suffer at least one serious illness from smoking. As such, it's easy to understand why insurance firms want to limit their risk by making sure people who claim not to smoke aren't surreptitiously having the occasional cigarette. Life insurance for smokers costs almost four times more than it does for nonsmokers, according to Good Financial Cents.

Smoker or Nonsmoker

Insurance firms typically consider you to be a smoker if you've consumed nicotine products in the last 12 months. This includes cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and even nicotine replacement therapies. If you enjoy a cheeky smoke after a good meal or have successfully quit using nicotine patches or gum, you could be charged the same for your life insurance as a two-packs-a-day smoker, all other things being equal -- although, if you occasionally smoke cigars, you might still qualify as a non-smoker.

The Test

Your blood and urine will be screened for traces of cotinine as part of any medical you're asked to undergo after applying for life insurance. Cotinine is a metabolite of nicotine and is the most common identifier for nicotine use in blood and urine. If you state that you're a non-smoker on your application, you can expect insurers to take a closer look at you, according to This could mean the chances of being asked to undergo a medical may be higher than if you'd admitted to enjoying a smoke, but whether or not you're asked to have one depends on your general health and the policies of the insurance firm you've applied to, according to Yahoo! Insurance. Most life insurance firms don't distinguish between occasional smokers and people who get through a pack a day, so if any nicotine's found in your body, expect to be penalized. If you've stated on your application that you're a nonsmoker and your medical test shows otherwise, some insurers will knock you back, while others will simply charge you a smoker's premium.


A 1988 study from the Surgeon General found nicotine breaks down in the body within 72 hours. So technically, even a heavy smoker would be able to hoodwink a life insurance medical exam if she could stay off the smokes for three days. Any cotinine present in your body after three days will either be undetectable, or at such low levels that it could be attributed to second-hand smoke. Nevertheless, lying about your smoking status could cost the beneficiaries of your life insurance policy dearly if it were discovered you were in fact a smoker when you claimed not to be. If medical records from your doctor or information about you from the Medical Information Bureau suggests that you were a smoker, your policy could be voided.


Don't be tempted to lie on your life insurance application. If you smoke, be honest, take the initial financial hit, and quit. Once you've been free of nicotine for a year, you'll be able to talk to your coverage provider about lowering your premiums. So as well as potentially extending your life and saving you a fortune on shelling out for tobacco products, kicking the smokes could also lower your life insurance premiums.

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