Smartphone Apps Are Promoting Smoking, Often in Kid-Friendly Ways

The latest research posted in the journal Tobacco Control presents worrying facts that smartphone applications are an emerging element of advertising cigarettes to youth. The research, carried out in February 2012, identified 107 pro-smoking applications in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market, two biggest smartphone app stores in the world. The majority of the pro-smoking applications are free of charge to download, many appeal to youth by applying cartoons and games, and some feature explicit pictures of cigarette brands such as Marlboro.

Smoking App

Pro-smoking smartphone app

It is seriously worrying that such a strong and quickly expanding marketing application, one that reaches youth easily and cost-effectively, is being used to advertise smoking. As the experts determine, the research “determines a new trend of advertising tobacco products in a new medium with worldwide reach, a huge consumer base of various age groups and less strict rules.”

This research should provoke action to avoid smartphone applications from being a new way of marketing tobacco products to youth:

- Apple and Google should examine their policies for authorizing applications and limiting youth access to adult content and act to prevent applications from being used to provide pro-tobacco messages to children.

- Philip Morris, whose Marlboro cigarette brand can be observed in numerous applications, and other cigarette makers should take action quickly to prevent the use of their brands in programs.

- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should analyze these emerging tools of advertising tobacco products, including whether cigarette makers are involved, and act to take care of youth.

The research, carried out by analysts at the University of Sydney, discovered 42 pro-smoking applications in the Android Market and 65 in the Apple App Store. Especially, unpleasant are “smoking simulation” programs, including a cartoon game called “Puff Puff Pass” where the user clicks on game figures to make them smoke and give the cigarette to other figures. This application shows smoking as a fun activity with friends. Other applications enable users to smoke a cigarette virtually by positioning the phone near the mouth and using the microphone; to place cigarette brands or images as “wallpaper” for the phone; or to display a lighted up cigarette on the phone screen.

“These programs could as well easily catch the attention of youth because of their high quality graphics and availability under the ‘Game’ and ‘Entertainment’ categories in the application stores. Pro-smoking programs that display that smoking is ‘cool’ in a cartoon game, and offer a chance to discover the available cigarette brands and even reproduce the smoking experience with high quality, free apps could probably improve youth’s chance of smoking initiation,” the research concludes.

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