Is vaping bad for you? Or is it different to smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes? And how does it affect your Life Insurance premium?
Vaping – that's the 'smoking' of electronic cigarettes – has been marketed as a safer alternative to smoking, with many cigarette smokers making the switch for perceived health benefits. While the aerosol emitted by e-cigarettes doesn't contain all the contaminants of tobacco smoke, it does still deliver highly addictive nicotine, cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead.
It's for these reasons that insurers assess people who vape in the same way as those who smoke cigarettes, and charge them the same insurance rates.
Arthur Zerf, Head of iWYZE Life at Old Mutual iWYZE, says that there's currently no evidence, based on medical studies, to support applying different terms depending on the device, frequency or substance used.
"The Old Mutual iWYZE definition of a smoker includes smoking tobacco, nicotine or any nicotine substitution products," he says. "This means not only cigarette, pipe or cigar smoking, but also the consumption of any products containing nicotine such as patches, chewing gum, vaping, snuff or other organic substances. Customers who vape are charged the same as customers who use any other tobacco, nicotine or any nicotine substitution products."
Vaping is a generic term used to describe the use of electronic cigarettes. The difference between vaping and traditional cigarette smoking is that vaping produces a heated vapour steam containing chemical aromatic or non-aromatic flavours and nicotine with no combustion; while smoking generates smoke due to the incomplete combustion of tobacco.
"In both cases, smoke is inhaled by the smoker," says Zerf. "The prognosis of vaping is similar to smoking traditional tobacco, nicotine or nicotine substitution products. The important causes of mortality and morbidity associated with vaping consumption are cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disorders."
In South Africa, e-cigarettes don't fall under the current Tobacco Products Control Act. Instead, they technically fall under the Medicines and Related Substances Act of 1965. But while, legally speaking, they should be registered with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and sold by prescription only, they're widely available as consumer products, even sold at kiosks in shopping centres.
The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill is supposed to regulate smoking in general – including vaping – but has yet to be passed into law, despite being closed for public comment since 2018.
Zerf says that people should be aware of the consequences of smoking, regardless of the product they use. "Long-term vaping may result in developing similar complications as smoking tobacco or similar products. Smoking in any form is harmful and should be avoided," he says.
"Non-smokers enjoy cheaper premiums. If the customer was issued a Life Insurance policy with smoker rates, there is an opportunity to review their premiums six months after giving up smoking, provided that they produce a negative cotinine test." (Cotinine, the main breakdown product from nicotine, can be detected in the body for up to three months after ingestion. Hence the six-month wait.)
Aside from the harmful chemicals ingested by vapers, the American Heart Association warns that the increasing popularity of vaping may 're-normalise' cigarette smoking, which has declined for years. They say that reversing the hard-won gains in the global effort to curb smoking would be catastrophic.
Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death and is responsible for the loss of 480 000 lives in America, each year. In South Africa, that number is around 44 000 under 'normal' circumstances, and likely much higher during Covid-19 because of the damage smokers cause to their lungs.
When it comes to claims for illness, insurers have the right to ensure that your declarations on initiating – and continuing – your policy, have been adhered to.
"At claim stage, we are guided by the medical evidence provided for the claimable condition," says Zerf. "If the evidence indicates that the client has a history of smoking and was a smoker at application stage, we reserve the right to review the original underwriting terms and possibly reconstruct the policy from inception with the correct rates keeping the premium constant."
The approach at the claims stage would be similar to the underwriting approach at the new business stage, he says. "In a nutshell, smoker rates would be applied from inception."
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This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or medical advice. The iWYZE Life policy is underwritten by Old Mutual Life Assurance Company (South Africa) Limited, a Licensed FSP & Life Insurer.