Ambitious plans to cut smoking rates to 5% across the North East by 2025 has been backed by health and local government leaders and young people in the region.
The move would save thousands of lives and an estimated £100million a year.
According to Fresh, the vision to reduce smoking rates to 5% by 2025 would have a profound impact on the region's NHS and economy - freeing-up around £50 million for the NHS and significantly easing the strain on hospital admissions and GP surgeries, as well as slashing the cost of smoking on local businesses.
Based on the estimated 2025 population , if just 5% of people smoked in the North East it would reduce the annual cost to the region from £158m to £58m.
• The cost to the NHS of treating smokers would fall from £93m a year to £43m a year.
• There would be a reduction of 404,000 GP visits - from 527,000 GP visits a year down to 123,000 a year
• Businesses would also see a saving with reduced sickness – from nearly £60m a year to around £14m a year.
Lisa Surtees, Acting Director of Fresh, said: "While we still see devastation of people's health from smoking, we have a duty to do all that we can to protect future generations from the harm of tobacco by making it a thing of the past.
"This is an ambitious goal, but it is the right one. There are very few families in our region who have not seen someone they love suffer as a result of smoking. We do not want children in the North East growing up seeing smoking and the diseases caused by tobacco as a normal part of life.
"We have made good progress over the past decade, but smoking is still by far our biggest killer. Although we have a long way to go, uniting partners in this forward-thinking vision will help us to realise the end goal of making smoking history for our children."
A survey by YouGov found 89% of North East adults would like smoking to become a thing of the past for children .
The aim of 5% or fewer people smoking by 2025 was launched by the Making Smoking History in the North East Partnership and has now been backed by:
• The Leaders and Elected Mayors Group of the Association of North East Councils (ANEC)
• North East branch of the Association of Directors of Adults and Children's Services.
• The North East Directors of Public Health network
• The ANEC Health and Wellbeing Board Chairs' Network, and local Health and Wellbeing Boards
• The North East Chamber of Commerce
Cllr Paul Watson, Chair of the Association of North East Councils, said: "I am proud of the way other regions look to the North East for our work in tackling smoking, despite the challenges we still have.
"Smoking affects the life chances of every child who grows up to smoke, especially in some of our poorest wards. Councils have agreed that tackling smoking locally and as a region is an ongoing priority."
Cllr Nick Forbes, Chair of the Making Smoking History in the North East Partnership and Chair of the regional Health and Wellbeing Board Chairs group, said: "This is a clear statement from councils, the NHS and CCGs that the North East wants to end the burden caused by smoking, which still affects poorer families and people with mental health issues the most.
"But it is also about embracing more harm reduction approaches and using our voice to demand more action nationally. We cannot do this alone."
Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of death in the North East causing 16 different types of cancer, heart disease, stroke and COPD. It increases the risks of diabetes, dementia and blindness, and causes around 5,500 deaths in the region each year. One in two long term smokers die early, but nine out of ten have been found to underestimate the risks.
The North East has seen smoking reduce by nearly a third since 2005 – but rates have flat lined at around 22% since the start of the recession.
Ross Smith, Director of Policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: "Employers in the region could see reduced sickness and absenteeism through lower smoking rates. It is great to see companies in our region playing a role in supporting staff to quit.
In 2010 the ground-breaking "Cough Up" report from the Policy Exchange think tank revealed that the costs to society from tobacco are much greater than what tobacco sales generates to the Treasury from taxation.
The Making Smoking History in the North East Partnership is board made up of local authorities, NHS, the Association of North East Councils, the TUC and other organisations to be a champion for reducing smoking in the North East.
To launch the smokefree vision, the Make Smoking History in the North East Partnership board were joined by pupils and students from Thomas Walling Primary School in Newcastle and Durham Sixth Form Centre in Durham.
Bethany Carver, who is an 11-year-old pupil at Thomas Walling Primary School in Blakelaw and has previously urged her grandma to quit smoking, said: "Smoking is bad for your health. If smoking was a thing of the past then fewer people would die quicker from things like cancer. Making smoking history would create a better future for us."