The £180million cost of Sunderland's smoking and drinking problems

Councillors have backed plans to help tackle tobacco and alcohol issues costing Sunderland an estimated £180million a year.

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 5:00 pm
Councillors have backed plans to help tackle tobacco and alcohol issues costing Sunderland an estimated £180million a year.

Sunderland City Council Cabinet this week signed off on authorising officers to take “all necessary steps” to participate in the extension of the existing regional tobacco control and alcohol de-normalisation programme.

Known as FRESH and BALANCE, it has run since April 2016, with Durham County Council lead commissioner on behalf of seven councils in the North East, and the extension would see it last until 30 September 2024.

Sunderland Councillor Kelly Chequer, cabinet member for Healthy City, who presented the report, said the “economic burden of smoking in Sunderland is approximately £70.8million per year”.

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She added the “irresponsible use of alcohol is estimated to cost the city around £112million per year”, however the programme is helping make progress.

Cllr Chequer said: “Tobacco control and addressing alcohol harms are both complex issues and no single approach will be successful in isolation.

“Significant progress has been made over the past decade in reducing overall smoking prevalence and embedding policies and campaigns to reduce the harms of alcohol.

“As Sunderland continues to experience significant problems with tobacco and alcohol related harms, it remains imperative to ensure that evidence-based approaches such as those undertaken by FRESH and BALANCE are sustained.”

She added both issues contribute “significantly to health inequalities in Sunderland” and across the North East.

According to a cabinet report, the contract to date has provided “continued value for money and good standards of performance”, and interest is now being sought from all councils to extend the contract from April 2022.

The current contract was let via an open procurement and is provided by County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.

The contract includes functions such as providing data, research and intelligence, forums and locality support, policy guidance, system wide change, and approaches to reducing illicit tobacco.

The current annual value for Sunderland’s contribution to the contract is £167,940, which is met from the Public Health revenue budget, and the extension would have no change on the costs.

Cllr Linda Williams, cabinet member for Vibrant City, agreed they have to continue to work together proactively to tackle such issues.

She said: “There are so many complex areas why people drink and why people smoke, it’s a really difficult one to manage, and it’s so easy to hide it.

“I would welcome the use of more proactive insight to be able to have a direct impact.”

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