CASTLE Point has the highest percentage of smokers in Essex with one in five still indulging.

Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), a global anti-smoking charity, estimate the habit is costing the borough’s economy £23 million with 20 per cent smoking – higher than the national average of 16 per cent.

The bill racked up by Rochford’s 16 per cent of smoking population is estimated at £19million, including lost working days.

In Southend the estimated bill is £43million with 17 per cent smoking, the same amount as Basildon with the cost to the economy at £41million.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive at Ash, said: “Our tool shows just how significant the financial impact of smoking is at local level and makes the case for local authorities to invest in measures to discourage young people from taking up smoking and motivate adult smokers to quit.

“However, cuts to public health budgets mean that many local authorities no longer have the resources they need to invest in driving down smoking rates.

“This is a false economy that is damaging our local communities.”

The Ash study went on to determine an approximate impact on social care in Castle Point, with costs hitting £3.6 million.

While the tax on tobacco has been increased, charities feel the government could do more to help stop smoking and decry suggestions the tax received equals out the expense overall.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “It is vital that tobacco control is properly funded, giving smokers the best chance to quit and preventing people from taking up smoking.

“A levy on tobacco companies would ensure there is sustained funding for tobacco control thus crucially help to drive down smoking rates.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Smoking kills – that’s why we’ve taken bold action to reduce smoking and protect the public – including introducing standardised packaging for cigarettes, covering up tobacco products in shops and making it illegal to smoke in a car with a child.

“There are now fewer smokers in this country than ever before.”