Financial health also at stake as £1.4bn goes up in smoke

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New research from a Yorkshire university reveals the true cost of smoking to the country’s economy. Sarah Freeman reports.

To date, the Government’s stop smoking campaigns have used everything from shock tactics to gently, gently persuasion. All have concentrated on the health impacts of smoking and the link between cigarettes and lung cancer.

However, following new research by York University, the next batch of advertising campaigns might not be targeted at smokers, but their employers.

According to latest research smokers are costing the UK economy £1.4bn , by taking an average of two or three days more sick leave each year than their 
non-smoking colleagues.

The study was conducted by Dr Shehzad Ali, a research fellow at the University of York and Dr Jo Leonardi-Bee and Stephen Weng at the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies based at the University of Nottingham.

“While the relationship between smoking and health risks are well-know, this study has highlighted the impact of smoking on the economy in terms of additional sick days.

“Quitting smoking can result 
in substantial cost savings, not only to the NHS, but also employers.”

While the smoking ban, introduced in England five years ago, has shunted smokers into dreary shelters, it doesn’t yet seem as though it has made a dent in the financial implications of lighting up.

This latest report, published in the journal Addiction, analysed 29 separate studies conducted between 1960 and 2011, not 
just in Europe, but also 
Australia, New Zealand, America and Japan.

The data covered more than 71,000 public and private sector workers and while its conclusions may make uncomfortable reading, the experts who drew up the study say the facts are undeniable.

“Researchers asked workers about their current and former smoking habits and used surveys, medical and employee records to track how often they were absent over a two-year period,” added Dr Ali.

“The study showed that smoking was clearly tied to workers’ short-term absences as well as leaves of four weeks or more.

“The findings also emphasised the importance of encouraging smokers to quit.

“Doing so could help reverse some of the lost-work trends, as figures showed that current smokers were still 19 per cent more likely to miss work than ex-smokers.”

The £1.4bn lost in the UK due to smoking absenteeism was only one of a number of costs identified in the report. Others included productivity lost to smoking breaks and the cost of cigarette-related fire damage.

However, those who supported the ban on smoking in public places believe the corner may have been turned.

Before its introduction there were concerns the legislation, described as draconian by some, would simply drive people out of pubs and into their homes to smoke.

However, a review carried out by Professor Linda Bauld of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies found “no significant evidence of increased smoking at home among study participants after the law was in place. In contrast, some participants increased restrictions on smoking at home.”

It also suggested that the limits imposed on smokers had already reaped benefits with figures showing fewer people had been admitted to hospital with asthma attacks since the ban in Scotland which came in a year before its English counterpart.

The researchers looked at more than 21,000 asthma admissions between 2000 and 2009 for children under 15. Before the legislation, admissions among preschoolers were rising by more than nine per cent a year, while for older children they were stable. After the ban, they dropped by 18.4 per cent for preschool children and 20.8 per cent for those aged five to 14.

There has also been a significant decrease in heart attack emergency admissions and with the NHS under increasing budgetary pressure it is hoped that the ban will ultimately prove its financial worth.

The Department of Health this week said that a quarter of a million people pledged to stop during last month’s Stoptober campaign.

The real success of the 
campaign will depend on how manage to stay ex-smokers, 
but in light of the university of York figures is it time businesses started offering nicotine patches and group anti-smoking 

Well, not quite yet. According to Dr Ali and his colleagues further research is needed to examine which intervention would be the most cost effective, but the day may not be too far off.