Nicotine. Is it in your system?
Why does it matter?
Let’s compare your bodily system to a car for a moment.
Picture a dashboard.
Say your system has a dashboard with a set of gauges, just like a car does.
Instead of measuring fuel, oil, engine health and tire pressure like you would see in a car, your system’s gauges measure heart rate, blood pressure, circulatory and lung health.
Now, if nicotine enters your system, especially long term, those gauges will start to pick up on some warning signs. An indicator light, or two, might turn on.
When you apply for life insurance and you have “indicator lights” on, the underwriter will want to know.
That’s because the presence of nicotine in your system often affects your life insurance application – since it’s an indicator of risk.
Here, you will find everything you need to know about how long nicotine can stay in your system, how life insurance companies view nicotine, and where you can find the best life insurance rates.
Quick Nicotine Overview
Many people know the name “nicotine” and that its present in cigarettes, but not many people know exactly what it is, and how it affects your body and its systems long-term.
Let’s break it down real fast.
1. What exactly is nicotine?
Found in tobacco and other plants, nicotine is an addictive liquid alkaloid that acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system (CNS).
An alkaloid is a subcategory of nitrogenous organic compounds known to have a distinct effect on humans.
When pure, it is colorless, odorless and oily. The air causes the substance to turn brown and give off a specific smell.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of tobacco leaves.
2. How does nicotine affect my body?
Medical experts will tell you that nicotine is just as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
It does have profound effects:
- Nicotine floods your CNS within seconds
- Dopamine is released, giving the sensation of relaxation and happiness
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Increased alertness
How Long Does Nicotine Stay In The System?
Nicotine leaves the body within approximately 72 hours.
However. You can still test positive for nicotine (or its by-product) long after your last use of a product containing it.
We’re talking months, sometimes.
Nicotine versus Cotinine
While nicotine is processed fairly quickly in the body, its metabolite – cotinine – lingers.
Cotinine is a product formed after the chemical nicotine enters the body. – Centers For Disease Control and Prevention
The half-life of nicotine and cotinine are very different. In fact, cotinine’s half-life can be up to about 10 times as long as nicotine’s.
Most life insurance carriers conducting a medical exam will test for cotinine.
Cotinine levels are considered the most reliable indicator of a person’s exposure to tobacco products.
Just because you haven’t used nicotine within the last few days doesn’t mean you won’t test positive for its by-product, cotinine.
Important – just how long nicotine stays in your system is an imperfect science.
The type of test, your overall health, type of product and frequency of use all affect how long you will test positive after your last use.
Tests For Nicotine
Nicotine and its metabolites are routinely tested for during life insurance underwriting.
Remember, it’s the job of a life insurance company to evaluate risk and the presence of this chemical is viewed as one type of risk.
Let’s evaluate the four primary methods of nicotine testing.
Types Of Nicotine Tests
|Frequency of test||Common||Less common||Uncommon||Rare|
|Nicotine detectability||Up to 3 weeks||Up to 10 days||Up to 5 days||Up to one year|
Subject to change.
Can I test for nicotine at home?
At-home nicotine test kits are readily available. A quick search online will provide a number of purchasing options.
Most at-home kits test urine. You can find kits that test blood, saliva or hair.
While not necessarily as accurate as a test via a medical professional, it’s possible to gain an overall picture of whether or not it is present in your system.
Can I beat the life insurance nicotine test?
Don’t try to.
It’s never a good idea to dishonestly attempt to “beat” a life insurance medical exam. In fact, you could be declined coverage for lying on your application.
There are, however, healthy methods to help flush nicotine out of your system.
Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, is a water-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties.
Vitamin C aids in the metabolization of nicotine and can be found in a variety of healthy foods: red peppers, oranges, broccoli, and strawberries.
For sure, exercise has innumerable health benefits. From mental clarity to cardiovascular health, exercise is plain good for you.
Your metabolism rises when you exercise, and consequently, nicotine leaves your body faster.
Water flushes nicotine and other toxins from the body. Drink up!
Nicotine And Life Insurance Underwriting
What we’re mostly curious about here is how this might affect the underwriting process after you’ve applied for life insurance.
Let’s take a glance.
Why am I tested for nicotine?
In a word, risk.
The greatest disease-producing product known to man is tobacco. – U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
Life insurance carriers must evaluate an applicant’s risk in order to responsibly provide a life insurance contract.
Nicotine, or it’s by-product cotinine, is routinely tested for during the underwriting process – because it’s an indicator of risk.
Most products that contain nicotine are associated with negative health consequences:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart attack
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
Note – most of the negative health effects come from other chemicals found in the products, not specifically nicotine.
However, even if the source of nicotine is from nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), carriers still classify it as a risk.
Unfortunately, in a study published by the Harvard Public School of Health, NRT was shown to be ineffective long term.
Bottom line – honestly answer any tobacco-related questions during underwriting. Dishonesty could cause your policy’s application to be declined or your death benefit to not pay.
Do I have to be tested?
No exam life insurance is available. You need to know, though, you will be asked about your tobacco use during the application process for traditional coverage (term, whole life).
Carriers are not interested in whether nicotine is currently in or out of your system, per se. Rather, they want to know how long it has been since your last exposure.
In fact, most life insurance companies require you to be nicotine-free for at least one year before you are able to qualify for non-tobacco rates.
The recidivism rates for tobacco-use are highest during the first year after quitting. If you can make it one year without using, your odds of long-term success jump.
Thankfully, there are carriers who underwrite recent tobacco or NRT use favorably. You can even qualify for non-tobacco rates as a current user in some cases.
(See: recommended carriers below)
Note – some forms of life insurance will not test for or ask about nicotine. For example, guaranteed issue life insurance is issued without health or lifestyle questions.
Bottom line – there’s a big difference between how long nicotine is detectable in your system and when most life insurance companies consider you eligible for non-tobacco rates.
Products That Contain Nicotine
The number of products has increased over the years.
It is common to test positive on the life insurance medical exam if you use any of the following:
- Electronic cigarettes
- Electronic delivery systems (ENDS)
- Roll-your-own tobacco
- Pipe tobacco
- Smokeless tobacco
- Nicotine gels, gum, patches
Important – even second-hand smoke exposure may result in a positive test result. You can test positive even if you don’t use tobacco.
Interestingly, in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration announced their desire to sharply decrease the amount of nicotine found in cigarettes.
Conventional domestic cigarettes contain somewhere between 1.1 to 1.7 milligrams. The FDA hopes to drastically cut the amount to 0.4 milligrams in hopes to decrease addiction rates.
How Might Nicotine Affect Your Rates?
You will see there are distinct differences in premiums for non-tobacco and tobacco health classes.
Let’s consider sample quotes for a 10-year term life insurance policy for $250,000.
Here’s a quick chart for males:
Sample Quotes for Men
|20 year old||$9.56||$24.14|
|30 year old||$9.56||$24.58|
|40 year old||$11.63||$42.20|
|50 year old||$23.66||$97.10|
|60 year old||$59.58||$227.01|
|70 year old||$178.06||$570.76|
|80 year old||$599.81||$2233.88|
Quotes based on a healthy individual. Samples only. Subject to change.
You can see the clear distinction in additional cost for those with nicotine in their systems.
Here’s a similar chart for females:
Sample Quotes For Women
|20 year old||$8.53||$15.44|
|30 year old||$8.71||$18.92|
|40 year old||$10.81||$37.28|
|50 year old||$20.34||$75.43|
|60 year old||$41.91||$155.02|
|70 year old||$107.62||$366.63|
|80 year old||$478.84||$1505.04|
Quotes based on a healthy individual. Samples only. Subject to change.
Important – Even if you will test positive for nicotine, don’t delay purchasing life insurance. You can always reapply for non-tobacco rates when you qualify.
Recommended Insurers For Nicotine Applicants
If you, like many tobacco users, fall outside of most carriers’ guidelines for non-tobacco status, there are life insurance companies to take a closer look at.
Each company uses its own unique underwriting process and some view the chemical more favorably.
Prudential Financial is a go-to carrier for those who use tobacco.
In fact, only cigarettes are placed into a tobacco class during underwriting.
If you use other tobacco products, like electronic cigarettes, and are otherwise healthy, you can qualify for Standard Plus non-tobacco rates.
Lincoln Financial is another tobacco-friendly carrier.
The use of cigars or smokeless tobacco will not preclude you from qualifying for non-tobacco rates, even if cotinine appears on the medical exam.
Note – If you enjoy an occasional cigar, Lincoln is a company to take a close look at.
Healthy applicants are able to smoke up to 12 cigars annually and still qualify for Preferred Plus rates. If you smoke 24 cigars or less per year, Preferred rates are available.
American General, or AIG, is one more go-to carrier for cigar smokers.
One cigar per week is allowed for non-tobacco rates for applicants who qualify.
Moving forward, there are three important things to recall:
- Imperfect science. Ambiguity surrounds just how long nicotine will remain in your system. Factors that affect the length of time include:
- Type of product
- Frequency of use
- Age and overall health
- Diet and exercise
- Type of test
- Honesty is a must. Always tell the truth on your life insurance application. It’s the right thing to do. Declines happen as a result of dishonesty.
- Go independent. Collaborate with an independent agent who has access to top-rated carriers. If you have a history of use, you’ll want to evaluate multiple tobacco-friendly companies to compare and contrast.
Remember, your gauges on your body’s dashboard are affected by nicotine.
Life insurance companies know this and will underwrite you accordingly.
Even if nicotine is present in your system, thankfully, you can still secure a life insurance policy to protect those you care most about.