Pro-smoking phone apps need parental supervision
This holiday season there are not many teens without a smartphone or iPod Touch on their Santa lists. With the “digital danger zone” characterized by Jessica Rich, associate director of the FTC’s financial practices division, comes unregulated downloads of various mobile applications (apps) for hours of entertainment. This platform opens a venue for the tobacco industry, which already spends $1.1 million a day in New York state on advertising their products.
Pro-smoking apps are emerging as the latest tool for marketers and the latest trend among kids. A study by public health researchers in Australia discovered that there are over 100 different pro-smoking apps that could end up hooking our youth. These apps are categorized into six different groups based on their functionality.
Strikingly, many of these apps are available under categories more likely to appeal to children, such as “entertainment” and “games.” Others are ironically placed under “lifestyle” and “health and fitness.” The pro-smoking apps range from virtual cigarettes for users to utilize by literally blowing on a cellphone’s microphone, pro-smoking games (Puff Puff Pass, Hotsmoke, MyAshTray). There are even apps that have explanations of different cigarette brands, along with apps that help you find nearby tobacco stores or even let you roll your own cigarette. Most of these apps that are designed for kids contain messages that most parents would find objectionable and fail to inform parents about the data that the app contains.
There is now well-established evidence from the 2012 Surgeon General reports that states, “Children’s exposure to pro-smoking messages and images is linked to increasing the likelihood to initiate smoking in adulthood.” A cellphone acts as the perfect marketing vehicle for consumers at any location, at any hour of the day. Apple and Android app stores have the technological infrastructure to block the sale of apps in accordance with local laws.
A study done in the British Medical Journal found that Apple has already used this technology to ban access to certain content on its app store. These stores can also change the retail category suggested by the developer, which could limit exposure to questionable material that is marketed to youth.
In addition to modifying the FTC Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, as mentioned in the Richard Larner piece, a rating scale should be put in place on apps to help regulate problematic material. Having a parental lock/code on electronic devices that will not allow youth to download unregulated apps without parental consent is also highly suggested.
Tobacco products are being promoted in the new “Smartphone app” medium, which has a huge consumer base of young age groups, many whom have one of these smartphone electronics on their Santa list.
Limiting these accessible pro-smoking apps by parental controls or rating scales can help reduce tobacco marketing and promotion to youth.