The cost of smoking your socks

Cannabis use, vaping and the cost of insurance to underwrite the risks.
Health and insurance can both be affected by vaping and the use of cannabis. Picture: Timothy Fadek, Bloomberg

May 31 – World No Tobacco Day – is a good time to explore the long-term consequences associated with the use of marijuana. While it is now above board to light up and get potty in the privacy of your home, there are still a myriad factors to consider, including the implications for your health and your insurance premiums.

Read: Cannabis and life insurance: What you need to know 

Another alternative to regular smoking is vaping, which, like cannabis, is often considered safer than smoking tobacco. But there are concerns that this habit could cost you a great deal in the long term, especially as the more serious side effects of vaping are still being studied. 

A recent Colorado study links cannabis consumption to extreme nausea (called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome), which is quite counter-intuitive as cannabis is known to be used medicinally to cope with intractable nausea in cancer patients on chemotherapy.

There have also been reports of episodes of seizures related to vaping. While the evidence in both cases is inconclusive, it does highlight just how little we know from a long-term health point of view. What we do know is alarming enough, especially with regards to the consequences for the brain and the side effects on mental health.

It is worth considering the health implications of cannabis and vaping, and the additional cost of insurance to underwrite these risks.

First up, cannabis:

From a health perspective

Cannabis is proven to have short and long-term implications on:

1. The brain, including short-term memory loss, impaired learning ability, compromised co-ordination, altered brain development in adolescents, and cognitive impairment with lower IQ.

2. Behaviour, as it is often associated with risky behaviour such as poor driving, altered judgement and reckless sexual activity, which increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV/Aids and Hepatitis B.

3. Mental health, with issues linked to paranoia and psychotic episodes; cannabis can even elicit schizophrenia as a long-term side-effect in people predisposed to the condition.

4. Breathing, in that it can lead to chronic bronchitis and chronic lung disease.

5. Social robustness, as it can lead to young people dropping out of school.

From an insurance perspective

A regular cannabis user will most likely be risk rated based on: frequency of use, history of any addiction and treatment thereof, use of a single substance in combination with other substances, age, occupation, the financial services products being applied for, and any existing medical conditions that may impact the use of the substance.

The risk rating that is calculated considers these factors in conjunction with clinical evidence and insurers’ claims experiences both nationally and internationally.

Effectively, the person will be classified as a smoker. Due to cannabis’s link to the brain, psychosis, mental illness and risky behaviours, the insurance underwriting risk is deemed much higher. The premium will be determined in line with how frequently the person uses the substance, how much they consume and whether they use other things alongside it.

Next up, vaping:

From a health perspective

Between 2010 and 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration received 35 reports of seizures linked to e-cigarette use. Epilepsy has become associated with vaping, but it is critical to note that many of the seizures occurred in people who had pre-existing epilepsy and/or were also using other substances, so the results are inconclusive.

Some vaping solutions contain nicotine, which raises blood pressure and heart rate and could potentially be related to seizures, but there is not enough evidence at this point.

What has been proven is that nicotine has negative implications for the cardiovascular system and can lead to an elevation in liver enzymes, which makes it a metabolic risk. E-cigarettes can also contain carcinogen formaldehyde, which could increase cancer risk. There are also reports of traces of silicone in vaping ‘juice’, which increases the risk of lung disease.

From an insurance perspective

Given the health risks outlined above, vapers are classified as smokers and are usually risk rated the same way. A vaper/smoker is deemed more at risk of prolonged infection, so sickness cover is highly advisable.

More about the insurance aspects of cannabis and vaping

Although cannabis use has been decriminalised in South Africa, it still carries risk from a health perspective. Cannabis users and vapers need to declare to prospective insurers how frequently a substance is used, how much of it is used, and whether anything else is consumed alongside it – such as alcohol.

Even if a person has only tried ‘smoking their socks’ once or twice experimentally in their 20s and haven’t done so since, their insurer needs to know.

And if cannabis is being used medicinally, this also needs to be revealed, along with the condition requiring the treatment.

The fact that cannabis is not well regulated means that individuals as well as the insurance industry cannot be sure whether the substance used is of poor quality, or what the actual quantities of measured chemicals within the substance are.

Further research into the medicinal use of cannabis in the area of pain management is being done, as indicated in a recent presentation by Dr Sean Chetty from the University of Stellenbosch.

Dr Helen Weber is a medical advisor at Sanlam.


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There are a couple of issues with this article – the first is that the author mixes e-cigarettes and vaping weed – 2 VERY different things.

The second is this hysterical statement:

>> Due to cannabis’s link to the brain, psychosis, mental illness and risky behaviours, the insurance underwriting risk is deemed much higher.

Regular drinkers are a far greater insurance risk – as anyone who has been at a drinking club in the early hours of the morning can tell you – but somewhow insurance companies haven’t raised premiums based on drinking behavaiour (except the Vitality crowd) – this is just more of the usual cultural hypocrisy.

No mention of increased use of dagga or dagga psycosis ?
One joint on the weekend becomes one joint a day becomes starting the day with a puff and puffing all day.

End of comments.




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