Admitting that you use e-cigarettes could cost you thousands of pounds in additional premiums. What basis is there for this price difference, asks James Daley
It’s no secret that smoking tobacco isn’t great for your health. But when it comes to the world of insurance, it’s always been a little more complicated.
When you’re young, and buy your first life insurance policy, being a smoker can be costly. In fact, it’s likely to double your premiums. Same goes for any other kind of protection insurance – like critical illness cover or income protection.
But if you make it all the way to retirement as a smoker, it finally starts to pay back in your favour. Smokers can buy a better retirement income than their clean living peers.
As always, these prices are driven by statistics. Life insurance is more costly as a smoker because you’re more likely to die while your policy’s in force. And for exactly the same reason, pension companies will offer you more in retirement – because they expect to be paying it to you for fewer years than someone who doesn’t smoke.
The safe alternative to smoking?
But what about so-called “vaping” and electronic cigarettes? These have been the key to many heavy smokers giving up over the past few years – and a few months back, a UK government study even suggested it is 95% less harmful than smoking regular cigarettes.
So in the face of broadly positive press for e-cigarettes, why is it that the insurance industry has decided that they are just as bad for you as the real thing? What do they know that we don’t?
Take out a life insurance policy today and you’ll almost certainly be asked if you’ve “smoked any tobacco products over the past 12 months (including e-cigarettes)”. It’s a yes or no answer – and if you answer yes, your premium will be twice as expensive.
If the life insurers were able to base their decision in statistics – this decision may be more defensible. But given that they don’t even ask people to specify whether they vape or smoke – they don’t even have the data. Not to mention the fact that e-cigarettes have only been around for about a decade – which isn’t enough time to compile any meaningful results.
It’s hard to see this as anything other than a cynical ploy to pocket a few extra quid
This is not the only anomaly to be found in a life insurance application form. Insurers routinely ask questions about alcohol consumption, family health history, and even your waist line. These are fairly intrusive questions – but are perhaps fair enough in terms of the clear links between these factors and an individual’s mortality. But insurers also ask if you’ve ever suffered from “stress”. Anyone who answers no to that question is surely not being honest with themselves. But anyone who answers yes may find their premium pushed up – as they’re shoved into the mental health problems bucket.
It’s time for the regulator to take a look at the way insurers set their prices – not just in life insurance, but in all areas of insurance. There are too many areas where the evidence is simply not clear enough to justify the way that insurers choose to treat prospective or even existing customers. One of my greatest bugbears is an insurer’s right to put your car insurance premium up if you’re involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault. Regardless of whether the statistics justify their reasoning, it’s simply not fair play.
James Daley is the founder and managing director of Fairer Finance (fairerfinance.com), the consumer group and financial ratings website. He is also a regular pundit on the BBC One shows, Rip-Off Britain and Watchdog, and a former editor for the consumer group Which?. Follow him on Twitter @fairerfinance
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Could water vapour from e-cigs collect in your lungs, and become a breeding ground for germs?
That’s the advice some health professionals are giving. And because of this, some smokers are still smoking, despite the fact Public Health England believes e-cigs are at least 95% safer than smoking.
Here’s a recent email I received:
Sorry to bother you, but I wonder could you give me some information, please? I have recently been diagnosed with COPD and, of course, been told to give up smoking.
When I asked the “Health Care Professional” about using e-cigs, she replied that despite recent findings that e-cigs were 95% less harmful than cigarettes, the inhalation of water vapour creates a pool of water on the floor of the lungs and is an ideal breeding ground for all sorts of “nasty germs”, and is therefore, subject to debate about the efficacy of using e-cigs.
I would welcome your observations on her comments and, indeed, any empirical evidence that you feel would be useful. Having been a smoker for more than 50 years, it would be difficult to stop and am looking for assurance that e-cigs would be able to provide the necessary stimulus that tobacco withdrawal would undoubtedly engender.
An Expert Opinion
Being a retailer, I can’t, of course give out health advice, so referred the person to Professor Riccardo Polosa.
Riccardo is an expert in respiratory medicine, clinical immunology, and tobacco addiction, Chief Scientific Advisor for Lega Italiana Anti Fumo (LIAF), the Italian Anti-Smoking League, and one of the world’s leading experts on e-cigarettes.
Here was his response:
“This is ridiculous! You would get more water vapour from a home nebulizer designed to deliver COPD medications than you would get from an electronic cigarette.”
“We’ve also examined the effects of regular electronic cigarette usage on people with COPD, and found that respiratory symptoms were never triggered by e-vapour; moreover, in these patients we have shown an overall improvement in both subjective and objective respiratory outcomes after switching from tobacco cigarettes to electronic cigarettes.”
“What’s more, PG in aerosol form is an effective antibacterial and antiviral agent that is likely to prevent infections of the respiratory tract. Ironically, far from creating an ideal condition for germs to multiply and spread, PG vaping could be a practical and safe way to prevent COPD exacerbations.”
Author:About James Dunworth
Main blogger at the Ashtray Blog, co-author of a University of Alberta study of “Electronic cigarettes as potential harm reduction products”, co-author of the book: “Electronic Cigarettes: What the Experts Say.” Works at ecigarettedirect.co.uk.
E-cigarettes: an emerging public health consensus
Joint statement on e-cigarettes by Public Health England and other UK public health organisations.
We all agree that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking. One in 2 lifelong smokers dies from their addiction. All of the evidence suggests that the health risks posed by e-cigarettes are relatively small by comparison but we must continue to study the long term effects.
And yet, millions of smokers have the impression that e-cigarettes are at least as harmful as tobacco and we have a responsibility to provide clear information on the facts as we know them to be. It is our duty to provide reassurance for the 1.1 million e-cigarette users who have completely stopped smoking to prevent their relapse.
To be clear, the public health opportunity is in helping smokers to quit, so we may encourage smokers to try vaping but we certainly encourage vapers to stop smoking tobacco completely.
We know that e-cigarettes are the most popular quitting tool in the country with more than 10 times as many people using them than using local stop smoking services. But, we also know that using local stop smoking services is by far the most effective way to quit.
What we need to do is combine the most popular method with the most effective and that is why we are encouraging those who want to use e-cigarettes to quit smoking to seek the help of their local stop smoking service.
The current national evidence is that in the UK regular e-cigarette use is almost exclusively confined to those young people who smoke, and youth smoking prevalence is continuing to fall. This is an area that we will continue to research and keep under closest surveillance. In October this year, regulations to protect children will make it an offence to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 or to buy e-cigarettes for them and within a year the EU Tobacco Products Directive proposes a ban on all print and broadcast advertising of e-cigarettes as part of a full range of regulations.
We should not forget what is important here. We know that smoking is the number one killer in England and we have a public health responsibility to provide smokers with the information and the tools to help them quit smoking completely and forever.
PHE has always been very clear on its commitment to providing up to date information on the emerging evidence on e-cigarettes, as shown in the recent review which is the third in this area in the last 2 years. This commitment drove PHE and Cancer Research UK to set up the UK E-cigarette Research Forum. PHE is honouring its longstanding promise to monitor and share the evidence, providing clear messages to the public.
There is no circumstance in which it is better for a smoker to continue smoking – a habit that kills 1 in every 2 and harms many others, costing the NHS and society billions every year. We will continue to share what we know and address what we don’t yet know, to ensure clear, consistent messages for the public and health professionals.
Public Health England
Action on Smoking and Health
Association of Directors of Public Health
British Lung Foundation
Cancer Research UK
Faculty of Public Health
Fresh North East
Public Health Action (PHA)
Royal College of Physicians
Royal Society for Public Health
Tobacco Free Futures
UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies
UK Health Forum
Public Health England press office
Telephone 020 7654 8400
Out of hours telephone 020 8200 4400
Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Website: www.gov.uk/phe. Twitter: @PHE_uk, Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland
Published:15 September 2015