Chantal Marr Quoted in the National Post
National Post: Tobacco-free e-cigarettes are a healthier
choice for smokers right? No, life-insurance companies say
Chantal Marr, president of LSM Insurance, was quoted in the National Post on April 21, 2014. The Post quotes her in an article regarding the issue of e-cigarettes and their classification in Canadian legislature and by insurance companies.
In the article, Marr expressed her opinion about the fact that insurance companies charge e-cigarette users as regular smokers. This topic had originated from our original article E-Cigarette Users and Life Insurance. That article deals with the fact that e-cigarettes, despite posing a lower health risk, are perceived as regular cigarettes in the eyes of Health Canada and other organizations.
Read the full article:
Temal Sukhu had been smoking since age 15 and tried various methods to quit: nicotine gum, nicotine patches and just going cold turkey.
Nothing worked, until finally he joined the growing ranks of Canadians taking up electronic cigarettes, designed to mimic the experience of smoking while leaving out the tar, carbon monoxide and other toxins that make tobacco the leading cause of cancer.
It did the trick. About 18 months ago, Mr. Sukhu stopped smoking entirely, though still puffs on e-cigarettes.
“They simulate the smoking: the motion, the sensation of taking a draw and then blowing the smoke out,” said the 26-year-old security guard. “It’s an easier way. … A lot of my friends did it, and that’s the way they pretty much quit.”
When the Toronto resident went to buy life insurance after being tobacco-free for a year, however, he discovered the insurance industry was not so impressed. Underwriters are insisting that e-cigarette “vapers” like him pay smokers’ premiums that can be almost three times the normal rate, adding another wrinkle to a heated debate over the electronic technology.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Chantal Marr, president of the LSM Insurance agency in Toronto, whose clients include many e-cigarette users. “It does not make sense to price a non-smoker as a smoker.”
The battery-powered devices look similar to cigarettes or cigars, heating up a liquid and producing a vapour that is inhaled. The vapour often includes nicotine to give users a hit of the addictive chemical, but lacks any of the 70 carcinogens packed into the real thing.
Health Canada has deemed e-cigarettes with nicotine illegal, though it permits devices that do not contain the chemical, and the no-nicotine law appears to be routinely flouted, regardless.
Life-insurance companies contacted by the National Post this month confirmed that e-cigarette users must continue to pay smoker rates, at least until more is known about their effects.
The difference can be significant. A 20-year life insurance policy paying out $500,000 costs a 40-year-old non-smoker about $55 a month, a smoker of the same age $137 a month — almost $20,000 more over the term, said Ms. Marr.
“An individual using e-cigarettes could still be considered a smoker, as there generally is a higher risk factor that the individual could return to smoking, because it is a similar activity,” said a spokesperson for the Desjardins Group.
“Nicotine is the addictive piece — it keeps people coming back,” said Kevin Powell, chief underwriter for Equitable Life.
“The use of any tobacco or nicotine product, including e-cigarettes, within the prior year would result in tobacco rates,” said Carmela Antolino of Sun Life.
Advocates of the devices are unconvinced. It does not follow that people who have given up tobacco, even for a controversial new product, should pay premiums as if they still smoked, argued Daniel David, spokesman for the Electronic Cigarette Trade Association.
“They don’t know the definition of the word smoker,” he said. “You’re inhaling vapour. Just because something looks like something else, doesn’t mean it is.”
The industry’s response to the burgeoning new technology reflects a controversy that has divided even the anti-smoking world.
‘Nicotine is the addictive piece — it keeps people coming back’
Some public-health experts argue the devices will “re-normalize” smoking after years of successful anti-tobacco campaigns; could act as a gateway to smoking for young people; and might open the door to advertising that would help increase the market for real cigarettes, too. Nova Scotia has promised legislation that would place the same restrictions on electronic cigarettes as exist on tobacco now.
Proponents say the devices offer similar benefits as other, widely accepted nicotine-replacement therapies like gum and patches, but seem far more appealing to smokers, offering a powerful new harm-reduction option. The U.K.’s Royal College of Physicians — a pioneer in highlighting the link between cigarettes and cancer 52 years ago — said recently that doctors should encourage patients to try the devices, concluding “e-cigarettes will save lives.”
Against that backdrop, the insurance industry is struggling to respond to the rapidly developing phenomenon, said Dr. Derek Yach, a public-health expert who advises insurers on disease prevention. The New York-based vice-president of the Vitality Group thinks e-cigarettes may turn out to be a “disruptive technology” that seriously curbs tobacco use, but said insurance companies could hasten the process by rewarding users now.
“If a smoker switches full time to e-cigarettes, they are lowering their risk, full stop,” said Dr. Yach, who formerly headed a major anti-tobacco program at the World Health Organization. “If they’re lowering their risks, we should be encouraging it.”
A decision by insurance companies to benefit e-cigarette users who have quit smoking would also counter an exaggerated “Reefer Madness” anxiety that has developed around the new technology, the result of misinformation about its risks, said David Sweanor, a University of Ottawa adjunct law professor and leading anti-tobacco campaigner.