Applying for life insurance: Should you tell the insurer about the odd cigarette?

8 min Read Published: 21 Mar 2011

Interestingly I planned to write an article on this very topic and low and behold a reader beats me to it and asks the question. Nice.

Reader's Question:

I just applied for life insurance and I was completely honest on the forms and told them that I have never smoked in my life, but had a few puffs of cigarettes some months ago but did not inhale. Now to my horror they say I am classed as a smoker and my premiums have more than doubled. I have insisted on a nicotine test, but they still say I am classed as a smoker. This is crazy, a couple of puffs on a cigarette does not make me a smoker! Why did I even mention it? I am quite sure that breathing in petrol fumes is more harmful. Can I insist on a nicotine test?

My response:

Well it's tricky one.

For those who are unaware, cotinine is a chemical that is made by the body from nicotine, which obviously comes from cigarette smoke. Since cotinine can be made only from nicotine, and since nicotine enters the body when you smoke cigarettes, measuring cotinine levels can help show whether someone is a smoker.

Can you insist on a cotinine test?

So, first of all in response to your question 'can I insist on a cotinine test?' - of course you can but it doesn't mean that the insurer will entertain the idea. Arranging for the test to be carried out by a nurse will cost the insurance company money. Look at it from their point of view – why would they waste money trying to prove someone smokes when they told them that they do, when they first applied for life insurance? But by all means ask.

But as ever I can only lay out your options and it is up to you which path you tread.

Your options

The first option is to tell the truth – which you already have. People are often tempted to lie about their health etc. when it comes to life insurance just to keep the premiums down, but that is plain stupid. Life insurance is not a free ride and insurance companies want to make a profit. The greater the chance of a claim payout the more they will charge the client in premiums. Yes, you could try and be a smart arse and lie on the form and pretend you are as fit as a fiddle but you might get caught out when you die. Insurers can refuse to payout if you have lied on your application.

If you were to die of a heart attack at the age of 30 there's good chance the insurer might just wonder why. In a claim situation, the insurer will go for a doctor’s report and and they will find out that you were in fact more Chris Moyles than Chris Akabusi. Don't forget that trying to deceive the insurance company is technically fraud. But in relation to your situation, one puff can dump you in the smoker category.

One thing to point out is that if you take out an insurance policy based on unfavourable/questionable terms you are effectively validating the insurance company's decision. Should you then try and apply for life insurance elsewhere they will likely find out and assume the same decision. Often life insurance application forms will have a question on them asking whether you have been 'rated' (had your premiums increased to reflect your increased level of risk) or refused cover outright by any other insurers.

Some people may take the more pragmatic viewpoint on the whole smoker issue. In reality the 'smoker question' (usually something like ' have you smoked any tobacco products in the last 12 months?') is really designed to ensure that social smokers pay the same rate as normal smokers, not to catch out the one in a 100 that have a puff on a cigar at Christmas. Let's be honest social smokers are worse than normal smokers – at least normal smokers actually bother buying cigarettes rather than poncing other people's. (sorry, I digressed).

If you really believe that you would pass a cotinine test you could reapply with another insurer and answer 'no' to the smoker question. If you were required to take a cotinine test , and assuming you pass it, they will believe your non-smoker status. But remember in the event of a claim the insurer will go for a Doctor’s report and so, as long as smoking is not mentioned on there, then they will have no cause for concern.

One final point, if you did accept the smoker status you could always re-apply for life insurance in the future when you have 'given up smoking'. The downside to this is that you accept the smoker status with the inevitable higher premiums. Plus when you come to reapply you will be older (and perhaps not in as good health) so your premiums will be more expensive anyway.


Obviously, it's up to you what you do but it's best to never lie when it comes to taking out insurance. It will end up costing your loved ones in the end when you're gone. As for whether inhaling petrol fumes is worse than cigarette smoke – who knows? But I wouldn't start smoking cars exhausts if I were you.

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