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

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Oct. 25 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new study published in the journal Tobacco Control provides alarming evidence that smartphone applications are an emerging means of marketing cigarettes to kids. The study, conducted in February 2012, found 107 pro-smoking apps in Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market, the world's two largest smartphone app stores. Most of the pro-smoking apps are free to download, many appeal to kids by using cartoons and games, and some feature explicit images of cigarette brands such as Marlboro, the researchers found.

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. As the researchers conclude, the study "identifies a new trend of promoting tobacco products in a new medium with global reach, a huge consumer base of various age groups and less strict regulations."

This study should prompt action to prevent smartphone apps from becoming a new means of marketing cigarettes to kids:

  • Apple and Google should review their policies for approving apps and restricting youth access to adult content and take action to stop apps from being used to deliver pro-tobacco messages to kids.

  • Philip Morris, whose Marlboro brand can be seen in several apps, and other tobacco companies should act quickly to stop the use of their brands in apps.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other government regulators should investigate this emerging means of marketing tobacco products, including whether tobacco companies are involved, and take action to protect our children.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney, found 42 pro-smoking apps in the Android Market and 65 in the Apple App Store. Particularly troubling are "smoking simulation" apps, including a cartoon game called "Puff Puff Pass" where the user clicks on game characters to make them smoke and pass the cigarette to other characters. This app depicts smoking as a fun activity with friends. Other apps allow users to smoke a cigarette virtually by holding the phone near the mouth and using the microphone; to set cigarette brands or images as "wallpaper" for the phone; or to show a burning cigarette on the phone screen.

"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. 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 concludes.

The study abstract can be found online.

 

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