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Insurers Should Reward E-Cigarette Users, Not Penalize Them

by · June 17, 2014

Insurance Companies Treat E-Cigarettes Like SmokingEven though they’re not approved by the FDA for smoking cessation, and manufacturers are not allowed to claim they help smokers quit, electronic cigarettes offer similar benefits to other widely accepted nicotine-replacement therapies, such as the patch and gum. Recent studies suggest that electronic cigarettes are actually MORE EFFECTIVE than other popular quit smoking methods, which are often paid for by health insurers. Not only are e-cigarettes NOT covered, but many life insurers are treating e-cigs like traditional, cancer-causing tobacco sticks. The electronic version contains no tobacco, produces no smoke or tar and releases significantly less toxins, yet vapers are getting hit with the same high premiums as smokers. What gives?

The difference between a smoker and a non-smoker’s insurance premiums can be significant. A 20-year $500,000 life insurance policy costs a 40-year-old non-smoker about $50 a month, while a smoker of the same age pays around $140 a month — almost $20,000 more over the term of the policy.

Insurance Companies Are In The Dark

As of now, most life insurance companies do not specifically ask about electronic cigarette use, but with the FDA’s newly proposed rules that will eventually classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products, if you vape and you’re asked if you use tobacco, the legal answer will become “YES.” Either way, there’s a strong possibility that (in the near future) insurance companies will start asking for specific details about your nicotine-use, including questions about vaping and e-cigarettes.

The insurance industry’s view of electronic cigarettes isn’t exactly clear, but many life insurers are already treating “vaping” like smoking.  With limited reasearch and the long-term health risks still unknown, they blindly categorize e-cigarettes like their tobacco counterparts.

A survey of 151 life insurance underwriters at a conference last month showed that 9 in 10 considered e-cigarette users to be smokers. The survey, conducted by Munich American Reassurance Company, gathered responses from about 20 percent of conference attendees. The majority said their companies did not have specific policies for e-cigarettes yet, but that’s likely to change.

Differentiating Between Smokers Vs. Vapers

Even if life insurers are convinced that vaping is safer than smoking (which seems pretty obvious!), the difficulty in differentiating between smokers and vapers is a major problem. Insurers ask applicants about their tobacco use and then verify those responses with blood or urine tests, both of which will test positive for cotinine, if a vaper is using nicotine-based products.

“When a test is positive, an underwriter says this individual has used nicotine, so they are a higher risk class,” says Bill Moore, chief underwriter at Munich American. “An underwriter has a real challenging time figuring out what the source of that nicotine is.”

Why Should Vaping Be Penalized?

While determining the source of nicotine in someone’s body may be difficult, should everyone who uses nicotine-base products be penalized like smokers, who inhale thousands of harmful toxins and coat their lungs with chemically-laced tar? Occasional cigar users are not treated like smokers, and NRT patients aren’t either, yet e-cigarettes, which produce no smoke or tar, contain significantly less toxins and pose limited risk to users, are treated just like traditional cigarettes.

It’s true that long-term research cannot conclusively prove that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking (yet), but insurance companies should consider the following facts:

  • Thoroughly Tested, FDA-Approved Ingredients: All of the ingredients used in e-cigarettes (ie: propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and food-grade flavoring) have been thoroughly tested, are FDA-approved and are widely considered safe. In particular, propylene glycol, the most commonly used base ingredient, has been approved in various forms, including as a vapor in products such as asthma inhalers and theatrical smoke machines. It’s also used in many of the foods we eat, in the cosmetics we wear on our skin and in a wide range of pharmaceutical products.
  • Significantly Less Toxins: Recently introduced in 2007, a growing list of studies prove that electronic cigarettes contain significantly less toxins than traditional cigarettes. Cigarettes, which include 7,000+ chemicals, over 60 of which are known to cause cancer, are the number one cause of preventable disease and death worldwide. Virtually every health professional agrees that e-cigarettes pose significantly less health risks, and even though a few random (and incomplete) studies have found extremely low-levels of toxic substances, they’re well within government-approved safety limits and drastically lower than tobacco-based products.
  • No Chemically-Laced Tar: Not only do electronic cigarettes lack the toxic compounds, but they don’t produce smoke or the sticky tar that damages users’ lungs. Loaded with chemical byproducts, tar is a major contributor to serious medical conditions such as emphysema and lung cancer.
  • Nicotine IS NOT Carcinogenic: Despite nicotine’s negative association with smoking, it has never been directly linked with cancer. Nicotine is a stimulant, similar to caffeine, and although it can be highly addictive and may have mild, stimulant-like side effects, it’s not the primary component of smoking that leads to so many deadly diseases and debilitating medical conditions.
  • May Be Effective For Smoking Cessation: Electronic cigarette makers cannot claim their products help smokers quit, but a variety of studies suggest that they’re at least as effective as popular nicotine replacement therapies, such as the patch and gum. A more recent study found that e-cigs were 60% more effective than NRT, so shouldn’t insurer’s be rewarding their use?
E-Cig Users Should Be Encouraged & Rewarded

Smokers who switch to electronic cigarettes are reducing their exposure to harmful toxins, eliminating the buildup of tar and reducing their overall health risks in the process. So why should vapers pay the same elevated insurance premiums as smokers? If life insurance companies cannot differentiate vapers from smokers with their outdated verification procedures, maybe it’s time to find new tests that target smokers specifically. I’m no medical expert or scientist, but with thousands of chemicals present in cigarette smoke, there must be another byproduct to look for in a user’s body.

Even if there are some limited risks associated vaping, the level of danger is certainly much higher with smoking and users should be encouraged to make the switch with reduced insurance premiums. Insurance companies are sure to reap big profits by treating vapers like smokers, but hopefully science, and pressure from the vaping community, will eventually lead to fair treatment.

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