SMOKING kills more than 11 people every day in the North East and it costs the region’s economy over £210m a year, a new report has shown.
Experts have today revealed for the first time the true cost of smoking to the region in lives lost, illness and the toll on finances.
The latest research shows that 4,211 deaths were caused in the North East in 2010 as a result of smoking. That accounts for nearly one in five of all deaths among adults over 35.
It is estimated that around every two hours, one person dies in our region from a smoking-related illness.
Despite the North East seeing the largest drop in smoking in England over the past three years, it has one of the worst death rates in the country and the habit remains the region’s biggest killer.
There are 282.5 deaths per 100,000 in the region for those aged 35 and over, which is significantly higher than the national average of 216.
Sunderland has the worst smoking death rate at 308.1 per 100,000, closely followed by Newcastle at 299.2 and Gateshead at 299.1.
The figures show smoking causes almost 90% of deaths from lung cancer, around 80% of deaths from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and around 17% of deaths from heart disease.
Health experts in the region have insisted that improvements have been made in tackling the deadly issue, but at the same time have stressed that more needs to be done.
Professor Peter Kelly, acting regional director of public health for NHS North East, said: “The misery caused by smoking doesn’t just give us a huge financial headache, it brings untold suffering to tens of thousands of people in the North East every year.
“Giving up – or not starting in the first place – is the best thing you can do to increase your chances of living a longer and healthier life.
“These statistics are a timely reminder, as if we needed one, that we can never flinch from the fight against this poisonous product.”
The figures released by the North East anti-smoking office, FRESH, in partnership with Brunel University in Uxbridge, West London, are combined with existing figures from the North East Public Health Observatory.
It is estimated that smoking-related diseases cost the region’s NHS around £105m every year as a result of issues such as hospital admissions, GP consultations and prescription costs.
Overall, the NHS in County Durham spends approximately £21.99m per year on smoking related disease, closely followed by Newcastle at £14.38m and Sunderland at £13.63m.
Ailsa Rutter, director of FRESH, said the “very stark” figures really help to demonstrate the scale of the problem that smoking causes. She also stressed: “Detailed studies show the cost of smoking completely outweighs what it generates in VAT. The tragedy is that most smokers start as children and most go on to regret ever having started.”
The nicotine habit is also costing employers in the North East approximately £70m a year, with 335,000 days lost to increased absenteeism due to smoking-related issues and employees taking smoking breaks.
Ross Smith, North East Chamber of Commerce head of policy, said: “This report demonstrates the economic cost and the staggering impact smoking has on regional businesses.
Passive smoking is another burden on the North East, costing around £35.9m each year, with a hefty price being paid by children.
Recent figures from the Royal College of Physicians report, Passive Smoking and Children, also show an extra 6,500 cases of childhood disease each year are caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and chair of the North East Tobacco Control Partnership, said smoking costs the North East dearly in terms of poor health, lost productivity and early death.
He said: “But for every statistic there is a person receiving news they don’t want, living a life of invalidity and declining health, or dying before their time.
“We know we need to keep up pressure to reduce smoking for moral reasons, but the economic arguments are becoming equally powerful too.”
However, it is not all bad news. In 2010-11, NHS Stop Smoking Services helped more than 58,000 smokers to quit, a numbers that for the population size was the highest in the country for a record 10th year running.
Dr Meng Khaw, director of public health for Newcastle Primary Care Trust, pointed out that the benefits of giving up smoking are instant.
“After 20 minutes, blood pressure starts to fall, in 24 hours the body is free from carbon monoxide and in 10 years an ex-smoker has lowered their risk of heart disease to the same level as someone who has never smoked before,” he said.
“Quitting smoking remains the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.
“There is a variety of help and support available for people who would like to give up smoking and I want to urge as many people as possible to give it a try.”
Page 2 - Suffering the terrible consequences of smoking >>
Suffering the terrible consequences of smoking
LUNG cancer survivor Eleanor Fairlie knows first-hand the health dangers of smoking.
The mother-of-one had been a light smoker for 50 years - smoking between 10 and 12 cigarettes a day - before she was diagnosed with the cancer in March 2009.
Mrs Fairlie, a former civil servant, of Fawdon, Newcastle, has had part of her lower lung removed and also underwent chemotherapy to fight the disease.
Although in remission, the 71-year-old attends six-monthly check-ups at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary and receives ongoing support from Macmillan Cancer Care. She has also been diagnosed with COPD.
Mrs Fairlie said: "I think there’s a number of reasons why the North East has high smoking rates and it’s to do with the region’s history of poverty and unemployment.
"Most smokers are generally aware of the health dangers smoking poses, but once you begin smoking it becomes extremely addictive and it’s very, very difficult to stop.
"If I had been aware of the dangers of smoking in the 1950s and 60s I don’t think I’d have started due to the consequences I’ve suffered because of it."
Mrs Fairlie is supporting the Be Clear on Cancer campaign which focuses on detecting the early signs and symptoms of cancer.