Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Should cigar smokers be treated like drug addicts?

I recently received an email from a reader raising a question as to whether cigar smokers should be categorized as "smokers" or "non-smokers" when applying for a life insurance policy. Since cigar smokers don't inhale, my guess is that most don't consider themselves "smokers." Allegedly, cigars have a lower nicotine content, which is reduced via the fermenting and aging process. Moreover, the amount of nicotine ingested would also depend on how you smoke cigars, and how often. But how much nicotine really gets into your bloodstream? And is it fair to be relegated to the "smoker" category, translating to astronomically higher premiums?

The reader in question wrote that he was applying for a life insurance policy, and when asked about tobacco use, responded that he occasionally smokes a cigar. He was immediately told he'd be classified as a smoker, and that the policy required a saliva swab, which would find traces of nicotine within a year of use.

Several years ago, a friend of mine, and a pretty regular cigar smoker, applied for a life insurance policy. He told the agent he was a "non-smoker." Regardless, the agent said that blood and urinalysis were required.

When the lab called my friend to set up the test appointment, it was scheduled three weeks later because he would be traveling on business overseas. During that time period, he stopped smoking cigars, drank as much fruit juice and water as he could daily, and basically cleansed his system. He passed the urinalysis and blood test with flying colors. For the record, I am in no way endorsing his methodology. Besides, what worked for him may not work for someone else.

I related this to the reader, who responded that he was only applying for $100K, which required the swab. If he was applying for $200K or more, that would require blood and urine. The "accuracy" of a swab test finding traces of nicotine going back one year sounds dubious - but they do some pretty wild stuff on CSI - so I guess it's best to be prepared for anything these days.

This, among other things, gives me pause about insurance companies in general. The reader is most likely financially sound, and has the foresight to protect his family, but because he occasionally enjoys a cigar, he's made to feel like a drug addict.

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb


FR said...

My policy if for $1M. It's actually, my 2nd policy. I cancelled the first one and switched companies for a better deal. Anyway, for my first policy I answered in a similar, honest way, "Sure, a cigar once in a while." Same thing I was charged at the smoker's rate.
For my current policy, I simply answered that I was not a 'smoker'. As it happens, I didn't have cigars very often back then so nothing showed up in either blood test. If I were tested today for nicotine, there's a chance they'd detect something, though I only have a couple a week.


jonesy said...

I asked my agent the same question when discussing our policy "how do you define a smoker" relative to cigars. His response was 12 a year or more, when I asked how they came up with that he told it was a bit of a joke because the agents met once a month and usually had a cigar. Considering that the actuaries base their rates on data produced by studies on cigarette smokers a dubious response is not inappropriate in my opinion. As to what would show up in a blood test given frequency and amount of nicotine, that would be a CSI question.

Roadlizard7 said...

Prudential has separate categories for cigarette smokers and occasional pipe or cigar smokers. Not as good as non-smoker rates, but much better than cigarette smoker rates.

Paul said...

As a follow up; the insurance company ended up requiring both a blood & urine sample. I stopped smoking cigars for 17 days prior to the test. (I smoke on average 6-8 cigars a week) I was successful, The test came back with NO trace of nicotine. Now if I could just lower my cholesteral...

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