If you are buying a life insurance policy that requires a health exam, they will test for nicotine. Life insurance companies are particularly concerned about smoking and other tobacco use, so the nicotine test is a very important part of the underwriting process. This test is so important because the use of tobacco is highly correlated with a shortened life expectancy. If you are not subject to a full health exam, they will not test for nicotine. However, they will still ask you on the application if you have recently used any tobacco products. Do not lie on this question. Lying on an application on purpose is considered fraud.
How They Perform the Test
Life insurance companies will perform the test as a part of the paramedical exam. This exam takes place in your own home at your convenience. A paramedical nurse will come to your house to perform the exam in person. During the exam, they will ask you to perform a urine test. The nurse collects your urine specimen and sends it back to the lab for analysis. The company will test for a number of things including recreational drugs, markers of disease such as hemoglobin, glucose, white blood cells, creatinine, bilirubin, and of course nicotine. It takes about 4 days for nicotine to become undetectable in urine after stopping smoking. If you were a heavy smoker it may take a bit longer. If the insurance company tests for the metabolite of nicotine, cotinine, you will need to be free of nicotine for a much longer period. It takes about a month for all metabolites to clear.
Be warned, if the insurer detects any level of nicotine, it will probably lead the company to assign you a smoker rating if they issue a policy.
While a urine test is by far the most common method of looking for nicotine use, insurance companies have been known to use other methods as well. A saliva test is inexpensive and effective and can detect nicotine for about 10 days after you stop smoking. It is more sensitive than a urine test but is also more prone to false positives.
The most sensitive test, that will detect nicotine for the longest time after smoking has stopped, is a hair test. Nicotine can remain in the hair for up to a year in some cases! While a hair test is possible for a large policy, it is highly unlikely that the insurance company will choose this testing method. It is expensive and unnecessary in almost every case.
Another less common but possible test that a life insurance company will request is a blood test. This is usually only for larger policies since it is more costly and results can take a bit longer to come back from the lab. Like a urine or saliva test, a blood test will be used to look for various markers of health and possible substance use.
Chewing Tobacco, Vaping, and Other Nicotine Products
Any nicotine in your system will cause a problem. Whether you ingest the nicotine from chewing tobacco or inhale it from vaping, the insurance company will treat it the same as smoking. While vaping may be healthier than smoking tobacco, it still can cause serious health problems. Diacetyl, volatile organic compounds, and heavy metals are all present in vaping. There is also not a lot of large scale long term data on vaping yet since it is a relatively new product, so it is unclear what it ultimately does to longevity, on average. Chewing tobacco, of course, has been linked to mouth throat and stomach cancers. Even nicotine absorbed through a patch or ingested through gum or other cessation aids, signals to the insurance company that you have a high likely hood of relapsing into smoking.
What if you Lie to the Insurance Company
You do not want to lie on your application. If you do and the lie is discovered, the life insurance company can cancel your policy during the contestability period. During this period the company can review medical records and history to look for inconsistencies. If you die and a claim is filed, and you are found to have lied on your application a company could potentially deny the claim. It is unlikely that they will, but why leave the possibility open? Normally if a person is found to have misrepresented themselves on an application and a claim is filed, the life insurance company will put the policy back through underwriting, doing it as if the correct information was known. If it still would have been issued based upon underwriting guidelines, they will pay the claim. If not, they may not pay!
What if you Do Use Nicotine
Don’t worry if you use nicotine, it will not disqualify you from obtaining life insurance. It will increase the rates that you pay quite a bit, however. If you are a tobacco or other nicotine user, look at our list of best life insurance policies for smokers. There are still affordable options for any user of these products. A better idea may be to quit smoking. This will improve your health, your expected longevity, and it will reduce the amount you pay for life insurance. The CDC even offers free resources to help people quit.
Once your policy is issued, you can even apply to remove the smoker rating if you stop using nicotine. Typically, you will need to be nicotine free for a minimum of two years before the life insurance company will adjust your rating in a process known as reconsideration.