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'Pro-smoking' apps causing parents concern

February 4, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
With hundreds of thousands of apps, it seems like there's so much you can do with your smartphone. But some consumer advocates have concerns about certain apps because they promote "virtual" smoking. Experts worry these apps may encourage kids to smoke in real life.

Millions of people are now downloading mobile apps that researchers say promote smoking. The American Cancer Society warns that many appear to be targeting teens and children. Some are even rated for kids as young as 12.

"Ninety percent of adults who go on to smoke throughout their life began as children, so parents need to be aware that these are not benign or innocuous apps," said Dr. Thomas Glynn, American Cancer Society.

More than 100 "pro-smoking" apps are available, ranging from virtual smoke sessions, to nicotine-themed battery widgets, to tobacco "shops" where you can roll your own cigarettes.

University of California-Irvine Marketing Professor Connie Pechmann notes that the smoking simulation apps seem to "spark" the most interest.

"You can put the phone next to your mouth where the microphone is and inhale and exhale and see the cigarette burn down," said Pechmann.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says there is no evidence any U.S. tobacco company is involved.

"We do know that in a number of the apps, specific tobacco products and specific types of cigarettes are named, and we have not heard any outcry from the tobacco industry about that," said Glynn.

Dr. Debra Gilboa, mother of two children, was surprised at how easy the apps were to access on her phone.

"There's nothing you have to click that says I promise I'm 'x' number of years old," said Gilboa.

The iTunes Store only asks for a simple age confirmation. Consumer advocates want more safeguards.

"All you need to do is ask the kid 'What year were you born?' and 'How old are you now?', and that will throw off any 12-year-old," said Pechmann.

The American Cancer Society would also like to see warnings on the apps themselves.

"These warnings should say 'smoking can kill you,' 'smoking causes cancer,' 'smoking causes heart disease'," said Glynn.

Experts say you should keep the lines of communication open.

"This makes the whole conversation about smoking new again," said Gilboa.

Tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris International were both contacted for this story. Both said they have no connection to these apps.


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