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Pro-smoking apps attract children

Smartphone apps linked to smoking are easily accessed by children

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The tobacco industry is using smartphone applications to promote its products across the world, and they are easily accessible to children, researchers warn. They say their study, published online in Tobacco Control, shows that app stores need to take greater responsibility for ensuring that apps do not breach laws on advertising tobacco to minors.

The study authors investigated two of the largest online stores for smartphone apps, Apple and Android Market, in February 2012. They searched for apps that were pro-smoking – including those that gave explicit information about brands of tobacco, where to buy products, or that used images of brands and cigarettes, or that involved ‘trigger cues’ for smoking.

Of the 107 apps they found, some used explicit images of brands of cigarette, and others used images that resembled real brands. Some apps enabled the user to simulate smoking. The researchers classed 48 of the apps as smoking simulation, 42 as shop/brands, nine as cigarette battery apps (in which a cigarette burns down as battery charge drops), six as background wallpaper, one as advocating smoking and one as providing information on roll-ups.

A total of 6 million people had downloaded the 42 apps available on Android Market, the most popular of which were smoking simulation apps – some of which were claimed by the developers, despite lack of evidence, to aid smoking cessation. But many of these resembled cigarette brands, or were found under the headings of games, entertainment or lifestyle.

A large and growing number of children and teenagers use a smartphone – Ofcom says that almost half of teens it surveyed in the UK now own one – and other research shows that US teens’ downloads of apps are also increasing fast. Because of this, the authors say they are concerned that (unlike the Apple Store) Android Market does not issue warnings to anyone attempting to download apps with smoking or ‘high maturity’ content.

They warn that the tobacco industry’s practice seems to violate Article 13 of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FTC) which bans the advertising and promotion of tobacco products in all media.

They warn: “Pro-smoking content, including explicit cigarette brand images, is promoted in smartphone apps, which are reaching millions of users, including teenagers and children. App stores need to explore ways of regulating this content.

“App stores have a moral (and arguably) a legal responsibility to ensure they have the infrastructure to comply with WHO FCTC and other laws restricting advertising of tobacco to minors.”

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