Q&A: Can cigar smokers get life insurance?

By Features Consumer Reports

Q: I was going to tell my husband to stop smoking his occasional cigars, because he needed to qualify for life insurance. Then I found out that some insurers allow for 'celebratory cigars.' Which life insurers will give you a good rate if you're not a regular smoker, but from time-to-time light up a Cohiba to celebrate?—Kathleen B., Arlington, Va.

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A: Three-quarters of all cigar aficionados are only occasional smokers. Most life insurance companies define that as one per month, though a couple of carriers have liberalized their rules to allow up to four per month, and under those terms they rate your risk of death for insurance purposes as "non-tobacco user."

To find the lowest rate, "shop the carriers that are cool about celebratory cigars and find the ones with the best rates," says Byron Udell, founder and CEO of Accuquote.com, an independent insurance brokerage that shops for the best premiums and terms from among dozens of A-rated major life insurers in all 50 states.

"We have software that allows us to search insurers based on your smoking, say, 10 cigars a year, and the program filters out everyone except those that will accept you as 'non-tobacco'," says Udell. 

AIG and ING have the best rates for celebratory cigar smokers, says Udell, and would charge a 40-year-old male a non-tobacco rate of only $400 a year for a $500,000 20-year-term level-premium life insurance policy. By contrast, the smoker's rate for the same coverage would be $1,400. Premiums, of course, vary by the insured's age, sex, and health history and status; you can get a more precise custom quote based on your profile at Accuquote.com or by calling 800-442-9899.

Have a question about personal insurance? Visit our Insurance Center or ask our Insurance Guy. 

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To get coverage, you must answer "yes" in response to the life insurance application question about whether you've used any tobacco products in the last five years. In the "If yes, explain" section, honestly describe how many cigars you puff per year.

You also usually need to test "negative" for nicotine in the blood and urine samples that you'll have to provide during the medical exam. So don't celebrate the night before your medical test. Udell advises you to lay off the cigar for at least a week before your test.

Although life insurers give their blessing to the occasional cigar after calculating their own risk of having to pay out for your death over a rather limited span of years during which you hold an insurance policy, life is typically a longer game, and disease can be as undesirable an outcome as death. So our advice would not be complete without some important additional facts:

The National Cancer Institute cautions that "there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke," and the American Cancer Society warns that "regular cigar smokers are four to 10 times more likely to die from cancers of the mouth, larynx, and esophagus than non-smokers."

But a 1997 monograph published by the National Institutes of Health reported that occasional cigar smokers' lower frequency of exposure to cigar smoke "translates into lower disease risks" that are "difficult to measure," but are reasonably assumed to lie somewhere between the risk of those exposed to secondhand smoke and regular daily cigar smokers. "As occasional cigar smokers smoke more frequently or inhale more deeply, their exposure to tobacco smoke increases, and with that increased exposure comes a proportionate increase in dissease risk," the NIH advised.

However much or little tobacco you use, Consumer Reports has long advised and still recommends that you quit smoking.

—Jeff Blyskal

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