WASHINGTON — US health authorities unveiled a new anti-smoking campaign Thursday with testimony of ex-smokers and graphic images depicting the reality of tobacco-related diseases, in the latest effort to stamp out the habit.

The campaign to convince smokers to kick the habit, and warn younger people of the dangers from starting, will kick off March 19 in television and radio ads, on the Internet, and in theaters, magazines, and newspapers nationwide, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The "Tips from Former Smokers" campaign, expected to run for at least 12 weeks focuses on smoking-related lung and throat cancer, heart attack, stroke, Buerger's disease, and asthma.

"Hundreds of thousands of lives are lost each year due to smoking, and for every person who dies, 20 more Americans live with an illness caused by smoking," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

"We cannot afford to continue watching the human and economic toll from tobacco rob our communities of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and co-workers," she added in a statement.

The campaign unveiling comes a day after a new US study showed that higher taxes on cigarettes and education campaign highlighting the danger of smoking had saved nearly 800,000 lives.

A total of 20.6 percent of the US population currently smokes, including nearly four million youths, according to the latest government data.

Over eight million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking and, while every day over 1,000 youths under 18 become daily smokers, according to the CDC -- at the same time 70% of smokers also say they want to stop the habit, and half of smokers make a serious attempt to quit each year.

"Although they may be tough to watch, the ads show real people living with real, painful consequences from smoking," said CDC director Thomas Frieden of the campaign.

"There is sound evidence that supports the use of these types of hard-hitting images and messages to encourage smokers to quit, to keep children from ever beginning to smoke, and to drastically reduce the harm caused by tobacco," he said.