Teens may not be able to buy cigarettes legally, but they can virtually light up and virtually smoke away with the help of dozens of free mobile apps that researchers say may encourage the real thing.
These apps may be a way for tobacco companies to reach new, younger customers, according to a new study led by Nasser BinDhim at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Sydney, Australia.
“These apps could also easily attract teens and children due to their high-quality graphics and availability under the ‘Game’ and ‘Entertainment’ categories in the app stores,” the study’s authors write.
“Pro-smoking apps that show that smoking is ‘cool’ in a cartoon game, and provide a chance to explore the available cigarette brands and even simulate the smoking experience with high-quality, free apps could potentially increase teens’ risk of smoking initiation,” the study says.
The authors searched the Apple App store and Android Market, using the keywords “smoke,” “cigarette,” “cigar,” “smoking” and “tobacco,” and they identified 107 apps that they believe encourage smoking.
They grouped the apps into six categories, including “Smoking Simulation” and “Cigarette Rolling Information.”
Most of the apps were free, and some—but not all—included an age-restriction that said, “Tap OK to confirm that you are 17 or over.”
The Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a non-profit organization that advocates for the reduction of tobacco use, found the study “alarming.”
“It is deeply troubling that such a powerful and rapidly expanding marketing tool, one that reaches kids easily and cost-effectively, is being used to promote smoking,” said Matthew Myers, the organization’s president.
Myers said the study should prompt action to prevent smartphone apps from becoming a new means of marketing cigarettes to kids, and he recommended that US federal regulators investigate.
The US Federal Trade Commission did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Some of the more interactive sites include: Puff Puff Pass, a cartoon game in which players make the characters smoke and then get points for passing the cigarette on to other characters; iSmoke, which simulates smoking behavior, including lighting the cigarette and blowing the smoke; and Cigarettes, which offers a worldwide list of major cigarette brands and where to buy them.