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Vaping and your insurance rates

If you tell your insurance broker you vape, will your rates go up? Some think so, for the time being anyway. Or at least they won't go down in proportion to the actual reduction in risk your behavior represents.

Medics and brokers tend to ask, "Do you use tobacco products?" Vapers tend to reply, of course, "No", since they are aware that vaping devices don't generally have tobacco in them. But if the insurance company runs a blood test to verify your answer, they will probably find nicotine (unless you are down to zero-nic by now).

As long as deceptive statistics are still given credence by your insurers – statistics that ignore the difference between "half of users die" and "fractional percentages may be at slight risk" – statistics like those coming out of biased sources like the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – the insurance company is likely to call all nicotine "carcinogenic". Even though it is probably about as carcinogenic as breathing the air in an industrial city.

This very issue was discussed recently at a national conflab of insurance honchos, reports California underwriter Mike Wood, and " as long as there is nicotine delivery, they're going to keep the same stance," Wood says. Prudential is the only "major life [insurance] carrier" that makes a distinction between smoking and vaping, according to Wood.

A recent Fox News article on the issue chooses to make the same error of lumping vapers with smokers. "Life insurers have ample reason to err on the side of caution," says Fox, then proceeds to list as reasons only statistics relating to smoking.

But health insurers of the "long-term care" (LTC) variety treat the issue differently. "Long-term care is not asking about it at all," says Scott Olson of the California brokerage LTCShop. "Most LTC companies right now are not looking at nicotine use as a major problem; others will only charge more for cigarette use...."

A bright spot, in addition to the stance of Prudential and the long-term-care brokerages, is the fact that this situation can't last. Insurance companies have a strong interest in real statistics, not the kind of cooked books that are coming out of UCSF and the CDC. Given their needs for accurate percentages, with strong commercial motivations, insurance actuaries recognize the difference between a 50% cancer risk and a 0.01% risk. They are not likely to blindly accept a term like "carcinogenic" without asking, "Just HOW carcinogenic?" At least not for long.

It serves the supposed needs of vaping opponents to use blanket terms and ignore percentages of difference. The same is typical of their approach to a term like "toxicity" with reference to levels of certain chemicals. They typically ignore the difference between trace amounts and dangerous amounts. And the press, simply hungry for a story, buys the deception gladly. Hard-headed insurance actuaries, by contrast, are likely to be aware that a word like "toxic" is just mumbo-jumbo without awareness of the importance of the question, "How toxic?" They have a commercial interest in precision, while the vaping opponents have a rhetorical interest in obfuscation.

Also, insurance actuaries, in the long run, will most likely be dismissive about the call for "100% safety" typical of the ban-happy crowd – they know that there is no such thing as 100%. They know that trace levels of toxic substances are allowed in everything, even by the strictest regulators.

So time is on the side of those who stand to benefit from precision and clarity, and who value harm reduction over self-righteousness.