Northland smokers spend around $147 million a year on tobacco and health officials say it's money that could be spent on far more important things for the smoker or their family.

To mark World Smokefree May Toki Rau Stop Smoking Services Northland wants to raise awareness of just how much money Northlanders who smoke are actually spending on tobacco in one year.

Bridget Rowse, Smokefree Advisor at Northland District Health Board, said a conservative estimate is that Northland's roughly 30,000 smokers spend around $147,694,353 a year on tobacco products.

And, Rowse said, that total does not include other smoking items, such as cigarette papers, lighters and matches or vaping equipment and liquids.

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''Using Northland Census data, the Cost of Smoking Calculator, the cost of a packet 20
cigarettes ($27), and the average number of cigarettes smoked per day (14.8) we were able to work out that 19.1 per cent of Northlanders that smoke are spending almost $150 million dollars a year on tobacco,'' she said.

''When you look at it this way it's astounding how much money in the region is going up in smoke. That is an average of around $7391 per smoker. Imagine what you could buy for yourself, your kids or your family.''

Rowse said that the cost is not just financial, with tobacco the leading cause of preventable illness and early death.

''Long-term smokers will die an average of 10 to 15 years early because of smoking. You simply cannot put a price on that,'' she said.

To illustrate the amount of money that is going "Up in Smoke" Toki Rau Stop Smoking Services Northland will be burning a symbolic cheque for that amount at Te Matau ā Pohe Bridge in the carpark area on Port Rd, Whangārei today from 2pm.

The New Zealand Government collects $1.7-$1.8 billion nationally per year in tobacco tax excluding GST. In 2014, the economic cost of smoking across the country had been estimated to be tangible costs $2.5 billion and intangible costs were estimated to be between $3.11 billion and $11.2 billion.

The overall expenditure on tobacco control interventions like stop smoking services, cessation medicines, media campaigns, is roughly $57 million - $61.7 million, Rowse said.

"While the government may receive a significant amount of tax from tobacco sales, the cost of tobacco related illness and lost productivity far outweighs the income from the tax. Only a small amount of the tobacco tax revenue is spent trying to get smokers to stop smoking or to reduce the number of young people starting to smoke," she said.

While almost 20 per cent of Northlanders smoke - the highest rate in the country which averages 15 per cent nationally - it's down from the 24 per cent that smoked in the mind-1990s. And more smokers are seeking ways to quit the habit.

Rowse said many smokers are trying vaping to help them quit, but she said it was important that vapers also had a plan to then quit the vaping. She said vaping was relatively new and there had been no long term studies yet on the effectiveness of vaping or on its health implications.

Rowse said tobacco tax increases are the most effective and inexpensive way of reducing smoking. The tax on tobacco in New Zealand has risen by 10 per cent on January 1 for the past five years and during this time smoking prevalence has further declined along with tobacco sales. Further increases in tobacco tax are planned for the next five years.

May 31 is World Smokefree Day and Toki Rau Stop Smoking Services Northland encourage everyone to either celebrate being smokefree or encourage those who are not smokefree to embrace the smokefree lifestyle and give quitting a go.

Toki Rau Stop Smoking Services Northland provides a free Northland wide stop smoking service offering face-to-face support which can be provided in an individual, whanau/family or group setting, with eight sites across Tai Tokerau. This includes free nicotine replacement therapy gum, lozenges and patches to support you on your smokefree journey.

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP
• For more information on World Smokefree Day, go to: www.worldsmokefreeday.org.nz
• Toki Rau Stop Smoking Services Northland 0508 TOKI RAU (0508 8654 728) www.tokirau.co.nz , www.facebook.com/SmokefreeTaiTokerau.
• Quitline 0800 778778 for free advice on quitting.