THE true cost of tobacco use can be laid bare today after it was revealed smoking sets Southampton back by a massive £75m a year.

The Daily Echo can reveal the eyewatering figure, which includes spending £2m on picking up fag-ends, days after plans were unveiled to stop smokers from lighting up in outdoor children’s play areas.

And it comes amid estimations that more than £81m is spent on cigarettes and tobacco in the city every year, with more than one in five people lighting up.

Civic chiefs say £22.5m in work output is lost every year simply as a result of early deaths related to smoking in the city.

A further £15.9m goes down the drain as a result of workers taking smoking breaks while sick days relating to tobacco account for £13.7m.

The cost of NHS care for those suffering smoking-related ill-health is close to £15m every 12 months while passive smoking accounts for nearly £4m. Every year, £2.8m is spent tackling domestic fires in Southampton caused by smoking, while cleaning up cigarette litter costs the taxpayer £1.9m a year.

The startling figures were revealed in a report drawn up by Southampton City Council in response to data released by the city’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment report showing 22.6 per cent of adults in the city smoke – above the national average of 20 per cent.

Civic chiefs commissioned the council’s public health team to carry out the six-month study Making Southampton a Smoke-Free City: Tobacco Control Plan in partnership with medical experts.

It follows the authority signing up to the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control, an initiative signed by 50 councils to better protect residents’ health from smoking.

Now civic chiefs are launching an action plan in a major drive to cut the prevalence of smoking, reduce rates among 15- year-olds and lessen the impact of second-hand smoke.

A more troubling statistic still is that 16.6 per cent of pregnant women smoke at the time of delivery compared to the national average of 13.2 per cent.

Council bosses say the sums involved “demonstrate a very high financial burden to the city”.

In the year 2012/2013 there were three fatalities in dwelling fires across Hampshire due to smoking materials, with one of those in Southampton.

Each of the 12 fires in Southampton that occurred due to smoking materials cost society £13,755.

The Daily Echo has already revealed how new signs will be erected in outdoor children’s play areas as part of the Making Southampton a Smoke-Free City initiative.

But the council’s Cabinet member for health and adult social care, Cllr Dave Shields, said it was unlikely the signs would result in “draconian” enforcement.

Cllr Shields said: “Smoking tobacco is probably the worst drug problem in the country. There are big costs to society that we need to factor in.

“It is not against the law to smoke and people have got rights within that, but we want to protect young people and stop them smoking in the first place. We also want to help people who want to give up to make that step and to protect the environment.

“These statistics are a stark reminder of the problems associated with tobacco. The figures for the whole city are poor but there are places in the city where it is worse than others.”

He added: “Smoking is a social addiction that goes back hundreds of years and we have to do whatever we can.”

Amanda Sandford, research manager for public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: “We really welcome that the city is looking at the smoke-free agenda.

“It’s good that they are looking towards having a tobacco control system in place to help people try to stop smoking and to stop the number of sales to children.”

Packaging bid that failed

IT was supposed to be the pioneering project to slash smoking.

But a controversial scheme to impose plain packaging of tobacco products in Australia has failed.

New figures released today reveals the project has not deterred young smokers from taking up the habit, while tobacco sales have rocketed since the introduction of plain packaging.

The illicit trade has also risen dramatically, with black market ‘branded’ packs flooding into the market.

Figures from the Australian tobacco industries show tobacco sales rose by 59 million cigarettes in the first year plain packaging was introduced.

This increase reversed the longterm decline of legal sales volumes in the country since before 2009.

Research conducted by KPMG found that the illicit trade has witnessed a 154 per cent increase of illegal ‘brands’ – some which outsell well-known legal brands.

Figures from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service show illegal tobacco seizures have more than doubled between 2010/11 and 2012/13 from 82 million cigarettes to 200 million.

Separate studies from the Department of Economics at Zurich University and the University of Saarland failed to find any evidence that plain packaging deterred Australian youngsters aged 14-17.

  • Additional reporting by Maxwell Kusi-Obodum.