Hartlepool is counting the cost of smoking as new figures reveal smokers over 50 put an almost £3.5million strain on social care.
The total bill as a result of smoking from this age group upwards during 2015/16 came to a massive £3,470,097, according to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
This figure include £1,894,229 spent by Hartlepool Borough Council, which equates to 86 state-dependent smokers, and £1,575,869 spent privately by 43 smokers.
In a addition, a further 585 individuals received informal care from friends and family, the financial impact of which is difficult to quantify.
Across the North East, the figures for 2015/16 show the total additional spending by local authorities on social care as a result of smoking for adults aged 50 and over was approximately £44million.
People across the region aged 50 and over also faced a bill of over £36.6 million to cover the cost of their own care. In addition, a further 13,595 individuals receive informal care from friends and family.
According to ASH, the problem is set to get worse, because the local authority public health grant which pays for stop smoking services is being cut by central government, and a growing number of NHS commissioners are now refusing to pay for GP prescriptions for stop smoking medicines.
The new figures are included in an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health Report published today following an Inquiry by its chairman, Bob Blackman MP.
The report also highlights the faster decline in smoking rates in the North East, where smoking fell by 9.1% between 2005 and 2014 compared to a 6% fall nationally, with strong and continued commitment by local authorities to tackling smoking after responsibility for public health was transferred from the NHS.
Coun Stephen Thomas, chairman of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Adult Services Committee, said: "We welcome this report which highlights the faster decline in smoking in the North East and the strong and continued commitment by councils in the region to tackle smoking.
"We will continue to provide stop smoking services across the town and work closely with Fresh, the North East’s dedicated regional tobacco control programme.
"However, whilst it is clear rates of smoking are reducing, these figures do still highlight the huge burden placed on social care because of smoking-related illness.
"At a time when the Council is also facing significant cuts in Government funding, helping people quit smoking will not only improve their health it will also reduce the amount spent on social care because of smoking-related illness."
Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh, said: "Smoking kills, but it also leaves thousands of people with years of life-limiting disability which can leave people housebound and requiring care.
"By helping more people to quit smoking now, not only will it improve their health but it will reduce social care costs and hospital re-admissions for people with long term conditions.
"We welcome this report and the recognition of North East local authorities to reduce the death toll and impact of smoking. We believe our biggest priority now is to ensure that every time someone who smokes sees their GP or visits hospital, they are offered the support they need to quit."
John Pearce, Chair of the North East Regional Group for Directors of Adult Social Services, said: "There is not only rising demand for care but also increasing costs. It is not just hospital budgets that are affected. In a region like the North East with very high smoking rates in previous decades and an ageing population, we are seeing a high burden placed on social care.
"Preventing people from needing care in the first place is vital and reducing smoking can make an important contribution both to reducing the costs of care to councils and improving the quality of life for many who may otherwise need years of care.
"Though the Government has taken short term steps to try and relieve the serious strain being placed on individuals, councils and the NHS, without urgent action, the situation will only worsen."
CASE STUDY: I'M NOT HIS PARTNER ANYMORE - I'M HIS CARER
After being diagnosed with smoking-related Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in his mid-fifties, Denham Thomas, from Hartlepool, has had to rely on the caring support of his wife, Debbie.
The 64-year-old’s health has continued to deteriorate and Debbie, 52, no longer has a life outside of caring for him.
She said: "I first met Denham when he’d just been diagnosed with COPD.
"It’s been heartbreaking to watch him get worse over the years and when I look at him sat in his wheelchair struggling to breathe through his oxygen tank, it’s hard to believe that he was once this strong young man who loved sports.
"He gets really depressed sometimes and I can see in his eyes how angry he is with what smoking has done to him.
"It’s really sad to say because I wouldn’t want anyone else to take care of him, but I’m not his partner anymore - I’m his carer and I’ve got to look after his every personal need."
ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott said: "Smoking places an enormous pressure on our over stretched health and social care system, not to mention the many thousands of carers who spend their lives looking after loved ones.
"We know that most local authorities remain committed to reducing smoking but key services are under threat from public health funding cuts. In some areas this is being made worse by a lack of engagement from NHS partners.
"Local and national action is urgently needed to ensure the continuity of support to help smokers quit."
Bob Blackman MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Healt, added: "Evidence presented to the APPG on Smoking and Health shows that smoking is contributing to the current social care crisis.
"The situation will worsen if funding to local stop smoking services continues to be cut. Smoking is the leading cause of health inequalities in the UK so this puts at serious risk progress towards the Prime Minister’s ambition to reduce the burning injustice caused by inequality."