South Tyneside is counting the cost of smoking as new figures reveal smokers over 50 put an almost £4.5million strain on social care.
The total bill as a result of smoking from this age group upwards during 2015/16 came to a massive £4,446,061, according to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
This figure includes £2,426,980 spent by South Tyneside Council, which equates to 111 state-dependent smokers, and £2,019,081 spent privately by 55 smokers.
A further 750 individuals received informal care from friends and family, the financial impact of which is difficult to quantify.
In the North East region, 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 about £44million.
And folk across the region aged 50 and over also faced a bill of more than £36.6million to cover the cost of their own care. A further 13,595 individuals received 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 after 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.
John Pearce, corporate director for Children, Adults and Health at South Tyneside Council and Chairman 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.
"Though the Government has taken short term steps to try to relieve the serious strain being placed on individuals, councils and the NHS, without action, the situation will only worsen."
A North East health chief says the new report shows how vital it is to help older smokers quit the habit.
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."
Bob Blackman MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health said: "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."
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, commented: "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."