Health insurers in the United States have the right to charge more for people who engage in risky behaviors. And smoking tobacco products has long been considered quite the risky behavior indeed. In an effort to curb the many yearly deaths attributed to smoking, health insurance companies and policies under the Affordable Care Act have cracked down on smokers, charging them extra per month if they admit to their tobacco consumption. Life insurance companies haven’t been slacking on wringing extra dollars out of smokers, either. And for years that’s been the system and very few people thought it was terribly unfair.
But then vaping came along and complicated things.
Vaping versus smoking
Medical research around vaping and its health risks compared to smoking are ongoing. It’s a new industry and of course, science needs time to do its thing. Long-term studies have not been conducted yet, much less concluded. However, there is enough preliminary evidence to suggest vaping is much safer than traditional smoking, and many people have given up their cigarettes in favor of vape pens and mods for just this reason. Health insurance policies, however, make no distinction between smoking and vaping, and to make matters worse, they’re often unclear about this. Most vapers sign up as non-smokers unknowingly and find themselves penalized later on. And health insurance fraud is nothing to laugh at.
Nicotine versus tobacco
Here’s the real kicker. Most of these insurance policies targeting smokers came about in 2010 before vaping had exploded to the enormous market it is today. As such, the term ‘tobacco’ was used as a synonym for ‘anything to be smoked’ because back then it was a safe bet. And in order to prove they weren’t smoking tobacco, people were tested for nicotine since it’s the most traceable aspect of a traditional cigarette. Nicotine, tobacco, and smoking were all interchangeable when most of these policies were written. And for a time, all was more or less okay.
But that’s not the case anymore. Because now people who vape nicotine are put in the same category as smokers because they also test positive for nicotine. And it’s true that you can always tell your insurance plan you don’t smoke, even if you do vape, but there’s no guarantee you won’t get caught and then see your premiums skyrocket.
Life insurance policies
The woes of vapers don’t end with health insurance, policies, either. Life insurance also takes into account behaviors that may contribute to an early death. After all, if you chain smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, you’re more likely today young and then the company is stuck paying out your policy. So to compensate for this, they charge smokers more. Most life insurers also consider nicotine consumption to be the deciding factor in who is or is not a smoker. So those who vape are still smokers in the eyes of these companies.
Why no vaping exemptions?
So why hasn’t vaping been given more consideration in the health insurance market? Well, there are a lot of reasons. For one thing, these kinds of policy changes tend to be slow to be adopted. Since vaping is a relatively new industry, it goes without saying that health insurance and life insurance companies probably haven’t caught up yet.
Also, major changes or exemptions in policies usually aren’t undertaken without peer-reviewed proof that they are a good idea. A company that frequently moves millions of dollars isn’t going to roll out a major policy change on a whim. Vaping is a largely unregulated industry, with the FDA only just starting to crack down on it. With so little in the way of official rules or any legal consensus on vaping and its health risks or lack thereof, most companies are unlikely to work it into their policies.
The solution isn’t as simple as it may seem. Testing for nicotine is the established method of proving whether or not someone smokes. To separate vaping and smoking from one another on insurance policies would mean a whole new method of testing would need to be adopted. And that would be difficult as well as expensive. And to be blunt, most insurance companies likely aren’t losing much sleep at night over whether or not the vaping community is being penalized for smoking tobacco when they honestly aren’t.
The issue is ultimately out of the control of most people. Pro- or anti-vaping is unlikely to become one of the key topics at political debates for quite some time, if ever. So for now just relax and use the money you save by switching from cigarettes to vaping to help cover the unfair insurance premiums you’re going to be stuck with.