FOX19 INVESTIGATES: Smoking apps enticing kids? - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

FOX19 INVESTIGATES: Smoking apps enticing kids?

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Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
(FOX19) -

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," Pechmann claims.

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.

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