With just a few more hours left to Cyber Monday, parents are quickly ordering holiday presents for their children online to take advantage of the steep discounts. Last year, while searching for toys online, some parents were outraged to find that a product called “Puff Cigarettes” was listed on Amazon in the toy category for the 5-7 age group. This year, parents should know that kids don’t need to buy toys to simulate smoking, they can simply download apps for free.
A new study showed that smartphone apps provide a new way to market cigarettes to kids. The study found 102 pro-smoking apps in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market, the world’s two largest smartphone app stores. Most of the apps are free to download. Many of them appeal to kids by using cartoons and games, and some feature explicit images of cigarette brands such as Marlboro.
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. 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.
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.” Given their high quality graphics and availability under “Game” and “Entertainment” categories in the app stores, these apps could easily attract teens and children. By showing that smoking is “cool” in a cartoon game, simulating the smoking experience with high quality, and offering kids a chance to explore available cigarette brands, these free smartphone apps could possibly increase teens’ risk of lighting up.
Parents need to become familiar with the smartphone apps that promote smoking and ensure their children don’t download them. We also urge Apple and Google to review their policies for approving apps and restricting youth access to adult content. They need to stop apps from being used to deliver pro-tobacco messages to kids. Government regulators need to investigate this new way of marketing tobacco products. For all we know, tobacco companies could be involved.
Nearly 90% of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18. We will not let Big Tobacco lure our children to a lifetime of nicotine addiction. We are committed to reducing tobacco marketing to our youth—even on smartphones. Kids should pass on Puff Puff Pass and get back to their Angry Birds.