How Do Life Insurance Companies Test for Smoking?

by Dani Arbuckle
Your insurer may attempt to verify your smoking claims.

If you smoke, you're probably going to pay more for your life insurance. But if you think you can lie your way through the questionnaire, you might want to think twice. Insurance companies have a handful of ways to test for smoking, from drug tests to questioning and scrutinizing your medical records after your death. So before you answer your medical questionnaire, be aware of the lengths your insurer may go to to determine if you're telling the truth.

Oral Swabs

To check just how healthy you are, your insurer may ask you to provide an oral swab. This is a simple procedure in which a swab of saliva is taken from your mouth and tested for a number of things -- including nicotine. Oral swabs aren't perfect. Nicotine passes through your system at different rates, depending on several factors such as how often you smoke, your weight and your hydration levels. If you are a regular smoker, nicotine stays in your system longer -- usually several days but sometimes even months. If you only smoke occasionally, it may escape detection if you haven't had a cigarette for a few days.

Urine Test

Instead of an oral swab, insurers may ask you to provide a urine sample. But like oral swabs, urine tests aren't perfect. Nicotine can break down in the body within 72 hours. After that point, cotinine -- a common identifier of nicotine in drug tests -- may be present in your urine but it may be attributed to secondhand smoke.

Questioning

Your insurer may simply ask you directly whether you smoke or not, assuming you will tell the truth when some minor pressure is applied. Some companies might call you randomly to ask questions, including ones about smoking. You may give an inconsistent answer if it's been some time since you applied for insurance.

Post Mortem

After you die, particularly if it's within three years of purchasing your policy, your insurer may investigate your smoking habits further. This is more likely to happen if you die of a smoking-related disease like lung cancer, than if you were to die of something unrelated. If your insurer discovers through your medical records that you smoked, it may refuse to pay out your policy or it may pay out a lesser amount.

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