Global reinsurers are stepping up warnings to their 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, reported Reuters.
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.
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.
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, said 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 24 October 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, global chief medical officer John Schoonbee said the reinsurer has told insurers in recent months to make extra checks on whether vapers are using cannabis products.
Stephen Cooley, chief medical underwriter at PartnerRe Life & Health, said more research on the long-term effects of vaping was needed and that life insurance rates for vapers would be the same as smoker rates "at best".