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April 30, 2021

Fewer jobs and higher insurance costs for smokers

Although the number of smokers in Canada continues to decline, smoking remains the most important cause of preventable illness, disability and premature death.

That’s why a growing number of companies are introducing smoking cessation programs and forcing employees who use tobacco to fess up and return corporate wellness bonuses -- as well as pay higher health premiums in the first place. A few employers, including some in Canada, have even stopped hiring smokers altogether.

It’s also why, on average, smokers pay as much as 40% more for life insurance. Happily, I'm not one of them but those who look to their cigarettes for comfort and companionship really think they're under attack.

So, how much puffing does it take to be considered a smoker, and what if you fudged a bit about smoking on your life insurance application?

The definition of a “nicotine user” is someone who uses any form of nicotine delivery, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, a nicotine patch and nicotine gum, reports Insure.com.

The look back period on nicotine use will vary by insurer. Some will judge you to be a user if you’ve used a nicotine product in the past two years, other a bit less.

If you really are a regular smoker, it’s generally not a good idea to fib in order to get a lower rate. In fact, it’s fraudulent.

If you’ve lied on your application about nicotine use and then nicotine turns up in a subsequent medical exam, you’ll still get dinged or dropped. 

What’s the worst that could happen? Say you die of a heart attack and it comes to light that you’ve been a smoker all your life. The insurance company could justifiably deny or substantially reduce the claim, Insure.com warns.

All these restrictions on hiring and benefits have smokers rights groups screaming discrimination: Should employers also be allowed to check for high blood pressure or cholesterol during pre-employment screening? What about high risk factors for heart disease?

No? Then, they ask, why single out smokers this way?

Their opponents, of course, say they see nothing wrong with smokers paying heavily for the consequences of their actions, including lost job opportunities and significantly reduced incomes.

Their comment retort: Why should others pick up the tab that stems from your unhealthy behavior?

What's your take: Are smokers getting a raw deal? Does a smoke-free workplace actually mean no smokers at all?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...