LIFE IN­SUR­ERS CUT THROUGH THE SMOKE TO BRING VA­P­ING UN­DER SCRU­TINY

In­sur­ers have gen­er­ally treated smok­ers and vapers the same but rein­sur­ers are now re-ex­am­in­ing poli­cies

The National - News - - BUSINESS IN DEPTH -

Global rein­sur­ers are step­ping up their warn­ings to life in­surer clients about the po­ten­tial risks of va­p­ing, putting pres­sure on un­der­writ­ers to charge cer­tain vapers higher rates than smok­ers, or even ex­clude them al­to­gether.

US au­thor­i­ties said last month that there had been 47 deaths this year from a lung ill­ness tied to va­p­ing. Health con­cerns about va­p­ing have grown de­spite ev­i­dence show­ing e-cig­a­rettes help smok­ers to quit, and has led to bans in some coun­tries in­clud­ing In­dia and Brazil.

Most in­sur­ers have long treated smok­ers and vapers the same, mean­ing they can pay close to dou­ble the pre­mi­ums of non-smok­ers or non-vapers. But three ma­jor rein­sur­ers have pro­vided up­dated ad­vice on va­p­ing in the past three months, with new warn­ings, while oth­ers are con­sid­er­ing their ap­proach.

The new warn­ings fo­cus on young vapers and the va­p­ing of liq­uids con­tain­ing mar­i­juana in­gre­di­ent THC (tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol), which is le­gal and preva­lent in some US states and has been linked to lung ill­nesses in the coun­try.

The shift in the rein­sur­ance and in­surance sec­tor rep­re­sents a fur­ther blow to the va­p­ing in­dus­try, which mar­kets its prod­ucts as health­ier al­ter­na­tives to smok­ing.

Han­nover RE, which al­ready ad­vised life in­sur­ers to treat vapers like smok­ers, has asked them to be par­tic­u­larly cau­tious about in­sur­ing peo­ple aged un­der 25 fol­low­ing the “epi­demic” of lung in­juries in the US, says Nico van Zyl, the rein­surer’s US med­i­cal di­rec­tor.

The ques­tion of whether to of­fer cov­er­age to this higher risk group should be a con­sid­er­a­tion for life in­sur­ers, he said.

French rein­surer Scor said in a pa­per on Oc­to­ber 24 that e-cig­a­rettes con­tain nico­tine, which may have toxic ef­fects, in­clud­ing on brain de­vel­op­ment in teenagers and young adults.

Scor rec­om­mends life in­sur­ers treat va­p­ing like smok­ing, and ex­clude in­di­vid­u­als who use va­p­ing prod­ucts con­sid­ered by US au­thor­i­ties likely to cause lung is­sues – namely, those con­tain­ing THC.

Swiss Re also treats vapers like smok­ers. In ad­di­tion, its global chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer John Schoonbee says the rein­surer has told in­sur­ers in re­cent months to make ex­tra checks on whether vapers are us­ing cannabis prod­ucts. The US Cen­tres for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion has urged peo­ple not to use e-cig­a­rettes con­tain­ing THC, some of which con­tain vi­ta­min E ac­etate, a “chem­i­cal of con­cern” among peo­ple with the va­p­ing-as­so­ci­ated lung in­jury Evali.

Stephen Coo­ley, chief med­i­cal un­der­writer at Part­nerRe Life & Health, says more re­search on the long-term ef­fects of va­p­ing is needed and that life in­surance rates for vapers are the same as smoker rates “at best”.

Mu­nich Re and Gen Re say they are mon­i­tor­ing the re­cent de­vel­op­ments in Evali.

Pro­po­nents of va­p­ing as a tool to stop smok­ing say the in­sur­ers’ and rein­sur­ers’ ap­proach is harsh.

“Get­ting in­surance is re­ally ex­pen­sive for peo­ple who have taken steps to quit to­bacco,”

says Simon Man­thorpe, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Bri­tish va­p­ing prod­uct man­u­fac­turer Vape­mate.

Va­p­ing in Bri­tain and else­where in Europe is more heav­ily reg­u­lated than in the US. Vapes con­tain­ing THC or cannabis oil of any kind are banned in Bri­tain, and Public Health Eng­land says va­p­ing is at least 95 per cent safer than smok­ing.

Twelve of 13 life in­sur­ers con­tacted by Reuters in Europe, South Africa and the US say they al­ready treat va­p­ing like smok­ing.

Most have taken this stance for years, but a hand­ful have re­cently made the switch to treat­ing vapers like smok­ers: US in­surer Pru­den­tial Fi­nan­cial made the change in Oc­to­ber, while the Irish sub­sidiaries of Aviva and Zurich have switched in the past year.

Zurich in Ire­land says its new ap­proach fol­lowed con­sul­ta­tion with rein­sur­ers.

Ex­plain­ing their cau­tion on va­p­ing, Bri­tain’s Aviva and South Africa’s Dis­cov­ery say there is a lack of ob­jec­tive ev­i­dence of the long-term ef­fects. Justin Harper, head of pro­tec­tion mar­ket­ing at Bri­tish in­surer LV=, high­lights re­cent ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that va­p­ing dam­ages the lungs.

Mr Harper says a 20-year pol­icy for a 35-year-old of­fer­ing £100,000 (Dh475,821) of life cover and £100,000 of crit­i­cal ill­ness cover would cost £11.89 a month for a non-smoker/non-vaper, and close to twice that fig­ure at £20.56 for a smoker/vaper.

The life in­sur­ers told Reuters they were not treat­ing young vapers dif­fer­ently, although Zurich said it was mon­i­tor­ing sta­tis­tics on in­creased deaths or ill­ness among this age group.

One ex­cep­tion among the life in­sur­ers in its va­p­ing view is Reviti, a new in­surer owned by cig­a­rette and e-cig­a­rette man­u­fac­turer Philip Mor­ris. It is of­fer­ing a dis­count of up to 15 per cent for vapers in Bri­tain. Cus­tomers who quit to­bacco and nico­tine al­to­gether are given a dis­count of up to 50 per cent.

The shift in rein­sur­ance and in­surance is a blow to the va­p­ing in­dus­try, which mar­kets its prod­ucts as health­ier than smok­ing

AFP; Getty

Flavoured e-cig­a­rettes at a lo­cal store in New York City. Pro­test­ers in New York, top left

A demon­stra­tor vapes dur­ing a protest at the Mas­sachusetts State House against the state’s four­month ban of all va­p­ing prod­uct sales in Bos­ton Reuters

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