Smokers costing businesses millions of pounds

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Workers taking cigarette breaks and smoking-related sick days cost businesses in St Helens £19m a year in lost productivity, a shocking new report reveals today.

The wide-ranging review drawn up by council and health officials puts the total annual cost of smoking to the town’s economy at a whopping £48m.

It also estimates that smokers in St Helens shell out around £52m every year to fund their habit.

St Helens’ director of public health, Liz Gaulton, said the findings revealed the scale of the problem facing health officials.

“Tobacco is the single biggest contributor to excess mortality in St Helens,” she said. “It is responsible for half of the health inequalities in the UK and is responsible for more deaths than the next four causes combined.”

The report also reveals:

* Smoking costs the cash-strapped local NHS £9.3m per year.

* St Helens Council forks out £3m annually in cleaning up discarded fag butts and issuing fines.

* Around one in five 16-year-olds in St Helens smokes.

The report was presented to St Helens Council’s cabinet as evidence to support a proposal urging them to sign a local ‘declaration on tobacco’ which will set out a framework of anti-smoking policies.

Mrs Gaulton said the declaration would bolster lobbying for tougher policies at a national and European level but sounded a warning that national politics could hamper progress.

“Although there have been some positive moves in terms of display of tobacco products in England, the government’s decision to delay the introduction of plain packaging is disappointing,” she added.

“The need to hear the voices of local government advocating for tobacco control to protect the health and wellbeing of local people is needed now more than ever.”

Among the report’s findings were several positive trends, including a reduction in the overall levels of smoking and a big drop in the numbers of teenagers picking up the habit and pregnant smokers.

But it also warns that anecdotal evidence suggests fewer people were using the council’s smoking cessation service partly because of the popularity of electronic cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes are popular but are unregulated and not recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence,” the report says. “They are likely to cause less harm than smoking cigarettes if used in substitution but they are not recommended or risk-free and can undermine the denormalising message.”

The report also warns of “aggressive marketing of e-cigarettes”, examples of which include the e-cigarette company Totally Wicked signing a sponsorship deal with Saints, and young people still starting to smoke.