SMOKERS are costing Hampshire’s businesses almost £200million a year, a survey claims.

A report says loss of productivity because of smoking is costing English employers £8.4billion a year in total.

Hampshire is the eighth worst county in the league table, with an estimated £191.3m lost in productivity.

Its western neighbour, Dorset, is the county where smoking costs the least – although the loss was still £45m.

The toll on productivity includes smoking breaks and extra sick pay.

The number of smokers among the English population fell from 19.8 per cent in 2011 to 14.9 per cent in 2017, but the habit continues to affect productivity, according to vaping specialist

It produced the league table by using a ‘ready reckoner’ created by the pressure group Ash (Action on Smoking and Health).

Charles Bloom, the owner of Vapourcore, said: “The risks of smoking have always been highlighted from a health point of view, but rarely from the perspective of business and opportunity.

“The numbers revealed in this study prove that smoking remains a countrywide issue,” he added.

“However, instead of redistributing wealth into the local economy and improving the experiences of consumers, companies are having to spend their excess on facilitating employees’ smoking habits.”

Smoking was banned in nearly all enclosed workplaces and public spaces in 2007.

Company vehicles must also be kept smoke-free if they are used by more than one person.

Staff who smoke have no extra rights to breaks, although any staff whose daily shift is longer than six hours must have an uninterrupted break of at least 20 minutes.

Other research has suggested 10 minutes elapse between a smoker leaving their desk for a cigarette break and returning to work.

The World Health Organization says: “Smoking in the workplace raises operational costs and reduces productivity by adversely affecting the health of workers.

“Making workplaces completely smoke-free is an effective way to protect the health of employees and improve the bottom line.”

The county whose businesses lose the most money from lack of productivity owing to smoking is Greater Manchester, at £450m, the research found.

The rest of the top 10 consists of the West Midlands (£399.5m), West Yorkshire (£374.6m), Kent (£224.7m), Merseyside (£220m), South Yorkshire (£215.6m), Essex (£209.5m), Hampshire, Hertfordshire (£176.2m) and Surrey (£174.2m).

Smoking claimed 77,900 lives in the UK in 2016, down two per cent, and accounted for 16 per cent of all deaths, according to official figures.

There were 484,700 hospital admissions due to smoking in 2016-17 – four per cent of all admissions, and up 10 per cent on the previous year.