E-cigarettes and your life insurance policy

Why you get charged smoker rates and what you can do about it

For decades now, we’ve known that smoking is bad for our health – the research has conclusively shown that smoking increases your risk of suffering from cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung disease, among many other conditions. This is the reason why smoker rates are higher than non-smoker rates in life insurance. Smokers can pay more than double the premiums that a non-smoker would pay, depending on factors such as age, pre-existing conditions like those mentioned above, and how you’ve structured your policy.  

But did you know regular users of e-cigarettes are also charged smoker rates when it comes to life insurance?

Why do vapers get charged smoker rates?

E-cigarettes are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavour and other chemicals. They turn chemicals, including nicotine, into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user. Most insurers in South Africa, including BrightRock, charge the users of e-cigarettes the same rates that we charge smokers of traditional tobacco products. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, e-cigarettes, such as vapes, contain smaller doses of nicotine, and other harmful substances such as ultrafine particles, flavourants, and heavy metals. While the levels of nicotine are smaller than they are in traditional tobacco products, they still pose some risk to the long-term health of the user. That being said, some e-cigarettes can contain even more nicotine than normal, combustible cigarettes.

Secondly, as e-cigarettes are still relatively new in the market, not enough research has been done to investigate the health risks that come with using them. However, some of the available research shows that consuming e-cigarettes has been associated with an increased risk of chronic cough, bronchitis, and asthma. E-cigarette smokers are also believed to be more susceptible to respiratory infections and poor cardiovascular health.

What if I’m vaping because I want to quit smoking?

The World Health Organisation (which has stated unequivocally that e-cigarettes are harmful to your health) says that of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers, 60% want to quit. Many tobacco smokers use e-cigarettes to help them quit. When underwriting clients for life insurance at BrightRock, we ask if they smoke or use any other nicotine products other than cigarettes, such as cigars, pipes, hubbly bubblies, e-cigarettes, or even nicotine gum. If clients have used any of these products within the preceding 12 months before their applications, we’ll charge them smoker rates. This is because smokers – regardless of whether they’re inhaling nicotine from combustible or e-cigarettes – are most likely to relapse within 12 months of quitting. 

How do I get non-smoker life insurance rates?

If you’re one of the 600 million people in the world wanting to quit smoking right now, then you’ll be happy to hear that changing this habit is not only worth it from a health perspective but also from a life insurance premium perspective. If you haven’t smoked or used nicotine products for 12 months, then you can apply to get non-smoker life insurance rates. Your insurer will ask you to sign a non-smoker declaration and do a cotinine urine test. If the test comes back negative then this could reduce your premium by up to half, which, at a time when everyone’s watching their rands and cents, is definitely worth considering. 

What if I have a policy and start smoking or vaping?

The effect on your cover and premiums will depend on your insurer- at BrightRock, you don’t need to let us know if you start smoking or vaping, and your premiums and cover will not be affected, having started smoking after your policy started won’t affect your claim. However, it’s important to know that there are many insurers in the market that do require you to notify them if you start smoking or vaping- if you don’t, they can reduce, or even decline your claim as a result.

This article was originally published on Cover Magazine on 12 July 2021 and is attributed to Clyde Parson, BrightRock Chief Innovation Officer. Click here to read the original online version.

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