SHOCKING new figures show that smoking costs the North-East £210m a year.

The statistics from Fresh – in partnership with Brunel University – reveal for the first time the toll smoking inflicts in terms of lives lost, illness and the resulting cost to the NHS, local authorities and private business.

Despite the North-East seeing the biggest fall in smoking in England over the past few years, smoking- related diseases still cost the NHS in the region about £105m every year.

This includes £53m spent on more than 27,000 smoking-related hospital admissions each year alone. The remainder is the cost of outpatient appointments, GP consultations, prescription costs and nurse consultations.

Smoking is also estimated to cost employers in the North-East about £70m a year, with 335,000 days lost each year to absenteeism due to smoking, plus the cost of smoking breaks.

Passive smoking also costs the North-East about £35.9m a year, with the biggest burden falling on children exposed to secondhand smoke.

Shockingly, nearly one in five of all deaths among adults over 35 are as a result of smoking, causing about 4,211 deaths in the region each year.

Smoking causes nearly 90 per cent of deaths from lung cancer, about 89 per cent from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and about 17 per cent from heart disease.

The research is disputed by smokers’ group Forest, which instead points to the contribution they make to the economy through taxes. However, experts have calculated that if smoking rates remain at the current level, more than 94,000 people in the North-East a year will develop related illnesses.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, the UK’s first dedicated regional programme for tobacco control, said: “These are very stark figures that really help to demonstrate the scale of the problem that smoking causes. The North-East has had the highest drop in smoking nationwide, but we still need to do more when smoking causes such incredible damage to families and communities.”

The Brunel University academics have calculated that the presence of a regional tobacco programme in the North-East, headed by Fresh, will save £92m in costs to the NHS and workplaces in the next two years and encourage nearly 19,000 additional smokers to quit smoking.

Simon Clarke, director of Forest, said he was “very sceptical” about the figures.

“There is no hard evidence for this and smokers make a massive contribution to the economy.

The tax that smokers pay far outweighs the alleged cost of treating smokingrelated disease and it is unfair to single out smokers who are often very valuable employees,” he said.