IT IS the shocking image that Hampshire health bosses are hoping will scare a generation into quitting smoking once and for all.

A throbbing, bloody tumour growing on the side of a cigarette represents the mutations that can lead to cancer caused every time someone smokes just 15 fags.

It is hoped the repulsive growth, featured in a multimillion pound hard-hitting campaign launched today, will encourage Hampshire and the Isle of Wight’s 279,000 smokers to kick the habit in the new year.

The new ads are the first to use shock tactics since the “fatty cigarette” ad eight years ago and comes in response to worrying statistics that reveal more than a third of smokers still think the health risks associated with smoking are greatly exaggerated.

Hampshire health bosses have thrown their backing behind the £2.7m Hidden Dangers campaign and are urging those affected by the adverts to seek help from their local Quit4Life service and pick up a free Quit Kit from the pharmacy.

Wendy Bennett, manager for Southern Health’s Quit4Life team in Hampshire, said: “We want to help as many people as possible in Hampshire to become smoke-free.

“We know how difficult trying to stop smoking can be for many people. The Quit Kit is a box of practical tools and advice developed with experts, smokers and ex-smokers, which has helped thousands of smokers quit successfully.

There are an estimated 178,000 smokers in Hampshire and 41,000 in Southampton, with smoking the biggest cause of premature death in England, each year claiming more than 100,000 lives in the UK. The tough message being given over the next nine weeks is particularly aimed at the new generation of young people, who have taken up the habit since the last campaign launched by the Department of Health.

During that eight-year period more than three million people have been admitted to hospital with a smoking related disease, which is more than 1,000 people each day.

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, which has one of its specialist centres based at Southampton General Hospital, 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.

“Giving up smoking can be extremely difficult, so providing extra motivation and reminding people of just how harmful the habit is can help smokers to take the first step in quitting for good.”