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These days, it seems like you can do just about
anything on your smartphone: listen to music, pay your bills, even smoke a
cigarette virtually. Researchers are worried that so-called smoking apps are
really targeting kids and may get them hooked on a life-threatening habit.
Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a board certified family physician,
often talks to her own children about the dangers of smoking.
"If we don't mention smoking they're liable to be curious
about it on their own," she said.
She even showed them one of the smoking apps.
Millions of people worldwide are now downloading mobile
smoking apps. The American Cancer Society warns the apps appear to be targeting
teens and children, with some rated for kids as young as 12.
"90% 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 of the 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. Consumer researcher Connie Pechmann
says smoking simulation apps have sparked 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," she said.
They're a lot like advertisements, according to Pechmann.
"They make smoking look attractive and cool and edgy and fun
and something you can do with your friends," she said.
Right now, the app world is largely unregulated. And the
Federal Trade Commission says there is no evidence any U.S. tobacco company is
involved. In fact, when contacted about this story, R.J. Reynolds and Philip
Morris both denied having any connection with these smoking apps. Dr. Glynn
expects more from the tobacco industry, though, saying they should speak-out
against these apps.
"We do know that in a number of specific apps, specific
tobacco products and specific types of cigarettes are named, and we have not
heard any outcry from the tobacco industry about that," Dr. Glynn said.
Meanwhile, family physician Deborah Gilboa was surprised at
how easy the apps are to access on her Android.
"There's nothing more you have to click that says I promise
I'm ‘x' number of years old," she said.
iTunes only asks for a simple age confirmation. Consumer
researcher Connie Pechmann says more safeguards are needed.
"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,"
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," Dr. Glynn said.
Experts say, for now, open communication with your kids is
the most important. Depending on how much you want to control what your kids
download on their smartphones (or yours), you can set-up a PIN or password on
your phone to require them to be entered before the phone will download any new
apps. The instructions for doing that are different depending on what type of
phone you have. But we found this
article that explains how to easily do it on Androids,
iPhones, and Windows phones.