"I am arranging cover for a client who has recently given up smoking. However she is smoking e-cigarettes in a bid to kick the habit. I understand a number of life offices are taking different approaches to this. Can anyone shed some light on whether I should treat her as a smoker or non-smoker for the purposes of arranging protection insurances, and how this will affect her level of cover?"
Phil Jeynes, PruProtect
For our underwriting purposes, anyone who has smoked or used nicotine products within the last 12 months is classed as a smoker and is accordingly charged a higher premium (dependent on age and the type of cover, but typically around double the standard cost).
Obviously, smoking increases a person’s likelihood of developing myriad serious illnesses and can significantly reduce life expectancy.
Our experience tells us that people who have only recently given up the habit are more likely to take it up again than those who have been a non smoker for a longer period of time.
In terms of e-cigarettes themselves, little is known about the health risks, if any, these products pose and as more data becomes available it is possible underwriting stances may change.
Of course, anyone who is given smoker rates at outset is able to convert to the lower, non smoker premiums at any point by letting us know that they have been nicotine free for 12 months or more. Typically, all we would require of them would be to sign a declaration and take a simple cotinine test.
In fact, our unique Vitality health and wellness programme actively encourages non –smoking; by giving points every year which can, in conjunction with other activities of healthy living, contribute to reducing monthly premiums, rewards through our many partners and even annual cashback.
Our policyholders can also take advantage of one of the UK’s largest smoking cessation courses at dramatically reduced cost.
Emma Thomson, LifeSearch
In the main, the definition to establish whether a client should be charged smoker rates is to ask whether they have used tobacco or nicotine products within the previous 12 months.
The situation with e-cigarettes is not straightforward so it’s understandable you are feeling confused. Using e-cigarettes may mean smoker rates are applied but they might not, as not all e-cigarette products include nicotine.
Given the situation with your client, you should ask them whether they use a brand that contains nicotine. If they don’t, companies such as Aviva will treat them as a non-smoker.
However, if the brand contains nicotine, all mainstream providers will class them as a smoker with one exception; Scottish Provident. You may get non-smoker rates with them because they only ask whether a client has used tobacco in the previous twelve months.
Scottish Provident though has recently tightened up its stance, largely because of the unknown future health risks associated with e-cigarettes so you need to be careful. If your client can get accepted without medical evidence being required, they can apply on a non-smoker basis and will get non-smoker rates.
However, Scottish Provident will impose smoker rates if further underwriting is required and they discover your client is using e-cigarettes. I therefore recommend you ask your client about the type of product they are using, and then check with underwriters for their stance before you submit an application to ensure you are quoting on the correct basis.
Robert Morrison, Aviva
This is something the industry needs to consider as the popularity of nicotine replacement products in the form of e-cigarettes grows.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated products that use heat to vaporise a liquid-based solution, usually containing nicotine, into an aerosol mist which is then inhaled.
You say that your client gave up smoking ‘recently’ so she would more than likely receive smoker premium rates if this was in the last 12 months, irrespective of whether she was using e-cigarettes or not.
Our present stance is that we ask whether applicants use tobacco or nicotine replacement products such as e-cigarettes, and we treat those who do as smokers.
There is a view that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking. Clearly they avoid the damaging products of combustion, but there have been reports of the presence of carcinogenic compounds being found in the inhaled vapour.
There is a real lack of objective evidence of the effects of long term use and until this is available we are likely to maintain our approach. The British Medical Association has voiced concerns and lobbied for stronger regulatory controls.
When we last considered our approach, e-cigarettes were being marketed as smoking cessation aids and as such it would have been considered unlikely that anyone using them would not have also used tobacco products within the last 12 months.
It now appears that they may also be used as a genuine alternative to smoking, so it’s possible that providers may consider their approaches again in the future.
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