NORTH-East health experts have backed a series of new hard-hitting adverts designed to persuade smokers to quit.

The new campaign, the first shock anti-smoking adverts to be screened for eight years, feature a cancerous tumour growing on a cigarette.

It is hoped the nine-week campaign will encourage people to quit by making the invisible damage caused by cigarettes visible.

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They follow research which shows that a third of smokers believe the health risks associated with smoking are greatly exaggerated.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh - the regional office for tobacco control in the North East - said: "Fresh is backing the new campaign as every cigarette is doing damage.

"Too many mums, dads and grandparents die before their time every year as a result of smoking related cancers, leaving loved ones behind.

"I would urge anyone thinking about quitting to have a go in 2013.

"With the right support it's often easier than you think, will lower your chances of a smoking related disease and will help you save money."

Research suggests that 21.6 per cent of adults in the North-East smoke, down from 29 per cent in two years.

The £2.7m TV, billboard and online campaign is designed to cut the number still further and will suggest that just 15 cigarettes can cause a mutation that can lead to cancerous.

Campaigners claim that since the last "fatty cigarette" shock campaign of 2004, more than three million people have been admitted to hospital with a smoking-related disease and more than 570,000 have died.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: "It is extremely worrying that people still underestimate the serious health harms associated with smoking.

"We want smokers to understand that each packet of cigarettes increases their risk of cancer."

The campaign is being backed by several health charities, including Cancer Research UK chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar, who said: "Hard hitting campaigns such as this illustrate the damage caused by smoking and this can encourage people to quit or may even stop them from starting in the first place.

"We have got to reduce the impact that tobacco has on the lives of far too many people – it’s not a ‘lifestyle choice’, it’s an addiction that creeps into people’s lives and results in death and disease".