Smokers cost NHS £5bn a year and employers more than £2bn

Smokers cost the NHS £5bn a year, employers more than £2bn a year in absence and lost working time, and also tend to take more time off work than their non-smoking counterparts, according to new research.

Three separate surveys have highlighted the staggering cost of smoking to both the health service and to businesses.

Research by the British Heart Foundation has suggested that the cost of smoking to the NHS is five times the accepted figure, with the bill for treating smokers and smoking-related diseases at £5bn, or around 5.5% of the NHS budget.

The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, carried out a review of research from 1997 to 2007, studying deaths directly related to smoking, as well as the effect of smoking-related disability and premature death.

At the same time, a government-backed study by the London School of Economics (LSE) has concluded that the cost to employers from smoking is £2.1bn a year.

Smokers, it calculated, took an extra 1.77 days off sick a year, equivalent to a cost of £1.1bn to the economy, while the time taken for cigarette breaks added a further £1bn a year to the total.

A poll of more than 1,000 workers by health consultancy Aon Consulting has broadly agreed with the LSE’s conclusions, suggesting that nearly six out of 10 workers believe smokers take more time off work, whatever the reality.

Men felt most strongly that smokers were more work-shy, with 61% suggesting they took more than average time off work, compared with more than half of women.

The LSE study, conducted on behalf of NHS Smokefree, the NHS smoking cessation service, calculated that the costs of smoking were highest in administration and service occupations (£115.4m) and lowest in the skilled construction and building trade (£53.8m).

Professor Alistair McGuire, head of social policy at LSE and lead academic for the report, said if firms made more use of NHS smoking cessation services, they could potentially make significant savings.

The findings come as the Department of Health has said it will be providing councils in England with an extra £2.5m to help them step-up their anti-smoking campaigns, particularly around discouraging young people from taking up the habit.

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