Why life underwriters remain cautious about e-cigarettes.

The advertisements above are a vivid reminder of how attitudes to smoking have changed since the 1960’s!

It has been said that the campaigns to stop people smoking has saved more lives than antibiotics. So, if vaping helps people stop smoking that must be a good thing.

What are the current attitudes of life underwriters to e-cigarettes and vaping? A recent survey of seven major Life Insurers, carried out by Pulse, showed that only one was prepared to modify their normal smoker rates (by 50%) for vapers. The great majority of underwriters want to know if the applicant has smoked in the last twelve months and treat vaping as smoking.

Why should this be? I think the answer is twofold.

Firstly, e-cigarettes are a comparatively new phenomenon. This means that there is little evidence available on the long-term effect of vaping.

E-cigarettes work by creating a vapour from a liquid, which is then inhaled. The liquid usually contains nicotine, propylene glycol and glycerine. The latter two are used for, among other things, antifreeze, sweetening food and flavourings. Nobody wants to inhale antifreeze! It is generally accepted that more work needs to be done on assessing the safety of additives.

Secondly there are continuing and disconcerting reports of individuals who have suffered as a result of vaping. A 19 year old boy from Nottinghamshire, who had started vaping at the age of 16, suffered an allergic reaction resulting from inflammation of the lung. He became seriously unwell and ultimately was put on an artificial lung which saved his life.

There are stories from America about individuals who have become ill following the use of e-cigarettes.  It is generally considered that the UK regulation of e-cigarettes is stronger than in the States. Regulation continues to be tightened up in many countries, but the internet provides ways for individuals to purchase unregulated products.

Moreover it is perhaps not surprising that underwriters in the U.K. should take note of the fact that some countries, including Brazil and Thailand and some individual States in America have banned the use of e-cigarettes.

Having said all that one would guess that if there was something seriously and inherently wrong with e- cigarettes it would have emerged by now.

So perhaps a sensible approach for underwriters is to moderate the smoker loading for vapers. Some additional loading recognises the need to deal with the unknown long term risk of vaping whilst recognising the health benefits of vaping over smoking.

One final word of caution. Insurers have been able to test a client smoker status through a nicotine test. However, if a potential client is a vaper they will test positive for nicotine and so it becomes virtually impossible for the underwriter to get proof that a vaping client does not actually smoke cigarettes. The cost implications and accuracy of other forms of testing need to be considered.