How Drinking and Smoking Affect Life Insurance Costs
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Last updated: 22/10/2020 | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
In the UK 57% of adults drink alcohol and 15.1% smoke cigarettes. The health risks of both are widely known, but many adults have accepted or rationalised them. Insurance companies, which have a financial interest in our lives, have not, however, and will penalise you for unhealthy habits with higher premiums.
No matter what you tell yourself as you pour that glass of red or light up, smoking and heavy drinking put you at higher risk of serious health problems, including cancers, strokes, and heart attacks. They increase the likelihood you'll die early and your insurance company will have to pay out, or pay out a large sum on a decreasing term policy. To offset the risk you and your weekend-or lunch break or "during Newsnight"-habits pose to their bottom line, insurance companies will hike your bills.
But by how much will smoking nudge up your life insurance costs? And what about the occasional tipple? How much drinking do you have to report to your insurer? And can quitting either habit save your money on your premium? We'll take a closer look at the impact our less salubrious habits have on life insurance costs below.
While red tops are regularly crowded with stories about the health benefits of the occasional, or even daily, glass of wine, there is scientific consensus that excessive drinking represents a significant risk to health, both in the short and long term. That's why your GP will query about your weekly alcohol intake, in units. Your insurer is legally entitled to ask the same question, as part of your application for insurance, and misrepresenting your alcohol intake to underwriters can lead to future claims being reduced or rejected.
But you don't have to rush to report that Christmas sherry to your insurance company. Splashing out for one week on holiday won't hike your premiums, and similarly going completely teetotal won't necessarily earn you a discount. In general, occasional drinking won't have a noticeable impact on the amount you pay for insurance.
But if your reported drinking exceeds the government's guidelines for alcohol consumption-revised in 2016 to be 14 units a week for both men and women, spread over three or more days-expect to pay steeper premiums on your insurance.
And be careful about calculating the amount you drink. 14 units doesn't necessarily mean 14 separate drinks. In general, it corresponds to six pints of 4% ABV beer, six pints of 13% wine, and 14 25ml glasses of 40% spirits. If you run the maths, you might discover that all your social' drinking is adding up to a seriously unhealthy habit, and one that might be contradicting what you told your insurer and compromising that life insurance policy you're paying for each month.
Insurers can run checks to ensure you haven't either deliberately or inadvertently misrepresented your alcohol consumption. Payouts can be reduced or claims can be rejected after death if the insurer believes they have been misled about the decedent's drinking. For example, if you claimed to rarely drink on your insurance application and then die of cirrhosis, expect your insurer to investigate your claim and possibly deprive your family of the support you've been paying for for years.
If you have previously received treatment for alcoholism or alcohol-related problems, you might struggle to find life insurance, except from specialist providers and for hefty premium. Some insurers may also ask you about alcohol-related driving offences and again, failing to disclose them can lead to the cancellation of your policy.
Additionally, be aware that some insurance policies will not pay out if you die as a result of alcohol misuse, such as in a drunken accident.
The life insurance premiums for a smoker can be double those of a non-smoker of the same age. Statistics back up insurers on these higher chargers, showing that smokers are more likely to make claims on their insurance policies, because smoking puts them at higher risk of death and disease.
And unlike with alcohol, where the occasional indulgence at holidays and special occasions won't affect your premiums, just the occasional cigarette can classify you as a smoker. Light up on the weekends or socially,' or celebrate with the odd cigar and your insurer will regard you as a smoker. And don't try to pull the wool over their eyes by misrepresenting your habits: providing inaccurate information when applying for insurance can lead to the cancellation of your policy and the rejection of claims. During your life, your insurer can test to see if you smoke by asking for a saliva or urine test, performing a spot check or consulting with your GP and requesting your medical records. After your death, your insurer can investigate any claim made and are more likely to do so if you die of a smoking-related illness, such as lung cancer. If they discover you were covertly smoking while paying the lower premiums of a non-smoker, they can reduce the payout your family receives or even deprive them of it entirely.
It's important to note that although e-cigarettes or vaping are touted as the healthier alternative to cigarettes, as of now insurers make no distinction between the two. If you're one of the 2.8 million British adults who use e-cigarettes, you'll be classified as a smoker by insurance companies and pay higher premiums accordingly. Use of any tobacco and nicotine products, from chewing tobacco to cigars, also qualify you as a smoker in the eyes of insurance underwriters.
The good news is that you can reduce your health risks, and your insurance premiums, by quitting smoking. Insurers will typically consider you a non-smoker after you've successfully abstained for 12 or 18 months. And you don't have to wait to take out a life insurance policy until you've logged enough smoke-free weeks. Insurers can update your policy and adjust your premiums if you can prove to them you've been nicotine-free for the required period of time.