SMOKING costs lives, and also costs the Oxfordshire economy millions of pounds each year, new figures have revealed.

Researchers at Oxford University have calculated that lung cancer drains £2.4bn from the UK economy each year in healthcare costs, premature deaths and time off work.

The total annual cost of all cancers to the UK is £15.8bn, according to Dr Jose Leal, of Oxford University’s Health Economics Research Centre.

The numbers were presented to the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool yesterday.

According to the NCRI, each patient costs the healthcare system £9,071, and with about 300 people diagnosed with lung cancer in Oxfordshire each year the killer habit is thought to cost the county more than £2.7m every year.

Dr Leal said: “Lung cancer costs more than any other cancer – mainly because of potential wage losses due to premature deaths from people in employment, about 60 per cent of the total economic costs – and high health care costs.

“The death rate from the disease remains high at 56 deaths per 100,000 people in the UK population annually, and almost a quarter of these occur before retirement.

“Our research shows that cancers impact the economy as a whole – and not just the health service.”

The findings have prompted renewed calls for action reduce the numbers of teenagers taking up smoking.

According to NHS Oxfordshire, a fifth of the population of Oxfordshire – 130,000 people – are smokers, and of the 300 diagnosed with cancer each year, 240 will die.

Amie Coles, aged 24, of Chalgrove, took part in the recent Stoptober campaign to quit throughout October, having smoked since she was 13. After a successful month she said more needed to be done to stop youngsters getting hooked before it was too late.

She said: “It was one of the worst things I have ever done, and one of the hardest things ever to give up.

“I think that they should get into as many schools as possible; the amount of kids I see walking around aged 14 and 15 smoking is ridiculous.

“I have a younger sister and I keep telling her, “Don’t you dare, don’t you dare start!”

The NCRI said 157,000 children aged 11-15 start smoking in the UK each year, and Andrew Hamilton, headteacher of Bartholomew’s school in Eynsham, said parents must take more responsibility.

He said: “Within our science classes and our Learning 4 Life classes we are educating and finding it works.

“But the main problem is what happens at home, or with their peer group.

“If they see their parents smoking then it is seen as an adult thing; that is something we can’t help.”

With NHS Primary Care Trusts soon to be abolished, pharmacies in Oxfordshire will take on more responsibility to help individuals.

Fiona Castle, the secretary of the Oxfordshire Local Pharmacy Committee, said teenagers need not worry about popping into a chemists and asking for help.

She said: “Our ‘stop smoking’ campaigns are proving very helpful for people who don't want to become part of a group, or find they don’t have easy access to GP services.”

lCall 0845 408 0300 or see the website smokefreeoxfordshire. for more information on the help that is available in Oxfordshire to stop smoking.