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Tobacco firms use apps to push smoking message

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Cigarette manufacturers are taking advantage of the popularity of mobile technology to send out a pro-smoking message, a study has revealed.

The report, by a team working in Tobacco Control, says there are a rising number of smartphone apps which portray smoking in a positive way - breaching World Health Organization rules banning the advertisement of goods containing tobacco.

The researchers found 107 pro-smoking apps available for download at Apple or Android Market, including ones which allowed the user to pretend they were smoking. Others included images of tobacco products.

Forty-two of the 107 apps were from Android Market and had been downloaded by six million people.

Out of the apps that were on sale in February 2012, 48 allowed the user to imitate the act of smoking, 42 promoted the sale of tobacco products or brands and nine used the image of a lit cigarette to indicate how much battery life the mobile phone had.

A further six had pro-smoking images as background wallpaper while another promoted smoking and one gave advice on using roll-up cigarettes.

The research found the most popular of these apps were the smoking simulators, some of which claim to be intended to help the user quit. But the authors said there was no evidence that this approach was effective and the apps they included in the study were either marked as being in the entertainment, games or lifestyle categories or resembled actual cigarette brands.

They warned that by using smartphone apps, the tobacco industry could be seen as targeting young people, who are more likely to use this kind of technology. And they called for stores selling apps to take more action to regulate content relating to smoking.

Apps from the Apple store did have a message about age restrictions, which came up during downloading, but there were no warnings connected to the Android apps.

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