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Are Smartphone Apps Encouraging Young Smokers?


Some of the apps even simulate smoking

Some of the apps even simulate smoking

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report in Special English.

Public health officials say tobacco companies are avoiding a worldwide ban on advertising tobacco products to young people by using smartphone applications, or “apps.” The officials say some of the apps are designed to persuade young people to start smoking.

Armando Peruga works for the World Health Organization’s Tobacco-Free Initiative. He recently discovered one such pro-smoking app online.

“I was taken aback by a game that is called ‘Puff, Puff, Pass,’ which is (an) application that’s a cartoon game where the user must click on game characters to order them to smoke and pass the cigarette to the other characters. And the user collects points if he or she continues passing the cigarette in the same sequence at a fast pace. Obviously, that can only be directed at very young kids.”

Millions of people around the world now have smartphones, and many of them are children.

Researchers in Australia searched the Apple and Android app stores using words like “smoke,” “smoking,” “cigar,” “cigarette,” and “tobacco.” They found more than one hundred apps linked to those words. The apps included not only games and social utilities, but advertisements for tobacco products, and information about where the products could be purchased.

Forty-two of the apps were from the Android store. Together, they had been downloaded six million times.

The most popular Android apps were those that simulate smoking. The apps let users smoke a virtual cigarette and produce visual effects of the cigarette being burned and smoked. Some of the simulation apps claim to aid in quiting smoking.

Armando Peruga said the names of some of the apps are very misleading.

“These apps -- which are, the study identified about a hundred seven of these pro-smoking apps -- are classified under names such as health and fitness and just…games which are very misleading, and anyone can access, especially young kids.”

The Australian researchers believe these pro-smoking smartphone applications violate the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The convention bans all advertising and promotion of tobacco products in the media, in countries that have signed the treaty. The researchers say the app stores have a moral -- and possibly legal -- responsibility to honor the convention and other laws that ban the advertising of tobacco products to young people.

The report on pro-tobacco smartphone applications was published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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