FROM today, anyone lighting up a cigarette outside a North-East hospital will be politely asked to move away - by a robot voice.

Hospital bosses decided to unveil their new anti-smoking device on No Smoking Day, which highlights nationwide efforts to persuade people to give up smoking.

The automated sensor installed at the main entrance of Darlington Memorial Hospital is activated by anyone striking a match.

In line with the hospital's policy, the last smoking room was closed last year. Patients, visitors and members of staff who smoke now have to use outdoor shelters.

Edmund Lovell, spokes-man for the County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "We received a large number of complaints from members of the public who didn't want to walk through a cloud of smoke to enter the hospital, so we decided to take action."

Elsewhere across the region, health officials in County Durham have been encouraged after officials at three social clubs expressed an interest in allowing visits by specialist teams of smoking cessation workers.

Iain Miller, chairman of the Smoke Free Derwentside alliance of local organisations, said: "We sent a letter out to all the workingmen's clubs and social clubs in Durham and Chester-le-Street and we were happy with the response we got."

The three clubs, at Sacriston, Bearpark and Brasside, will be contacted by NHS smoking cessation teams in the near future to organise sessions for club members.

Sunderland University is joining in No Smoking Day events today by organising smoking cessation roadshows for staff and students.