The county council is drawing up ambitious plans to cut the number of smokers in Hertfordshire, while having millions still invested in a tobacco company.

The authority looking to persuade thousands of Hertfordshire’s 170,000 smokers to quit by 2016 to help reduce the £300million the habit costs the county in related healthcare costs. 

Hertfordshire’s Tobacco Control Strategic Plan said smoking related diseases kill more people than obesity, drugs, alcohol, preventable diabetes, preventable accidents, and suicide combined.

The strategy aims to reduce the number of smokers in Hertfordshire from around 19.4 per cent of the population to 18.5 per cent.

Figures showed that Three Rivers had the highest proportion of smokers, 22.3 per cent, in south west Hertfordshire, with Hertsmere the second, at 19.4 per cent, and then Dacorum with 18.7 per cent.

Watford had the lowest proportion with only 16.6 per cent of its residents hooked in nicotine.

Health officials are also looking to drive down the numbers of youths who take up smoking and woman who puff through pregnancy.

The council is planning for form an alliance of public bodies called Smokefree Hertfordshire to coordinate a renewed drive to help smokers quit and prevent new ones starting.  

However the strategy comes as ruling Hertfordshire councillors decided to keep the authority’s pension investments in British American Tobacco.

The council invested around £20 million in the company before taking on public health functions last year.

After reviewing its tobacco holdings last year, Derrick Ashley, a Conservative cabinet member for the council and chairman of the pension committee, said: "The expert financial advice we have followed made it clear that if we placed restrictions on our investment managers it would risk the pension fund’s returns being adversely affected.

"This is not a risk that the committee is at liberty to take, regardless of its members’ views on tobacco."