Smoking costs the Irish economy up to €5m a day in sick leave, increased absenteeism and lost productivity, it was claimed today.
New research commissioned by the health department showed that smoking breaks and absenteeism alone cost the Republic an estimated €385m last year.
The figures came as a welcome boost to health minister Micheál Martin, whose ban on smoking in workplaces – including pubs and restaurants – has faced heavy opposition.
Economist David Madden, who carried out the study for the health department’s Office of Tobacco Control, said smoking costs the economy between €1m and 5m every day.
He said: “It is clear that smoking has a direct impact on the competitiveness of Irish business.
“Encouraging and supporting employees who are trying to beat this addiction makes sense for an employer.
“This data shows that by steadily reducing the number of people who smoke we can reap tangible benefits in both social and economic terms.”
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern confirmed yesterday that the smoking ban will go ahead in January, despite recent protests from within Fianna Fáil.
Pub and restaurant owners have campaigned vigorously against the move, claiming it will have a negative impact on the hospitality industry.
Speaking at today’s seminar on the Costs and Productivity Impact of Tobacco Use, German health economist Robert Welte said there was no doubt that smoking-related disease and illness were a huge drain on economic resources.
He said: “We are all aware of the tremendous health benefits that giving up cigarettes brings.
“Employers should also realise the cost savings and productivity increases that this positive move can bring about.”
Welcoming the report, Minister Martin said: “About 7000 deaths in Ireland are attributable each year to tobacco related illness.
“The State assumes most of the costs of health care and tackling the tobacco epidemic is a Government approved public health priority.
“A significant number of beds in our acute hospitals are occupied by people with tobacco related illnesses.
“Effective measures to reduce the incidence of smoking related illness are essential if this burden of tobacco related ill health is to be reduced.”