IN YOUR CORNER
Insurance goes down if you quit smoking, but ...
If you still take nicotine in other ways, you’re still considered a smoker and will be charged accordingly
Smoking is a very expensive habit.
The cost of the cigarettes is just the start of it – smokers who have life insurance are paying hundreds more in monthly premiums than they would if they didn’t smoke.
In a 2017 article Sanlam Personal Finance spelt it out in hard numbers – a healthy, nonsmoking 25-year-old man could qualify for R2m cover at a monthly premium of R294. The same cover would cost a smoker R592 a month – more than double.
A healthy nonsmoking woman of 45 would pay about R462 for the same cover, but she’d have to pay R1,090 a month if she smoked.
When Richard Kille took out a life insurance policy some years ago, he declared that he was a smoker, and has been paying a relatively high premium as a result.
So when he gave up smoking in July last year, he was looking forward to a premium adjustment.
But insurers don’t just take their clients’ word about being a nonsmoker – they require them to have a blood test to check their nicotine levels.
“So because I use nicotine gum, I’ll test positive for nicotine, and that means they won’t change my status to nonsmoker,” he said.
Kille made the point that the policy descriptions are “smoker” and “nonsmoker”, not “nicotine user” and “non-nicotine user”.
“I possibly still have a nicotine addiction, but the positive effect on my health by not smoking cigarettes as a nicotine delivery method far outweighs my use of nicotine gum,” he said.
“Nicotine is not what causes serious illness and death from cancer, lung and heart disease – those culprits are the tar and toxic gases that are released from burning tobacco when you smoke.”
“Is it true that my insurer can still consider me to be a smoker because have I nicotine in my blood?”
The answer is worth R1,116 a month to Kille.
While researching the issue, I found an article in the US PolicyGenius that states: “Even though smoking cessation products ostensibly help you quit smoking, they still fall under the category of tobacco use.
“Some insurers are more lenient than others, so when you’re deciding on which insurer is best for you, consider how they consider noncigarette nicotine products.”
My quest for local industry input on the issue led me to the Medical Underwriting Standing Committee of the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (Asisa).
“Is it standard practice in the industry to only regard an insured as a nonsmoker if they have a zero nicotine intake?” I asked. “No vaping, no nicotine-gum chewing?”
“Is the intake of nicotine in itself considered hazardous to health?”
Dr Maritha van der Walt, convener of the Asisa standing committee, said as long as a person was still dependent on nicotine – as Kille admits to being – there was “a very high possibility” of them relapsing back to smoking.
“Since Mr Kille is using products containing nicotine, it is impossible for life insurers to determine whether he has indeed stopped smoking, as both cigarette smoking and nicotine replacement products result in a positive cotinine test,” she said.
“He can approach different insurers and possibly get a different decision.”
So it seems that when it comes to “cessation strategies”, for many insurers, only those who don’t involve keeping nicotine in your bloodstream will result in a premium plummet.