Teenagers can virtually light up and smoke away with the help of dozens of free mobile applications, say Australian researchers and warn it can encourage the real thing.
According to a new study led by Nasser BinDhim at the University of Sydney's School of Public Health in Sydney, these apps may be a way for tobacco companies to reach new, younger customers.
"These apps could also easily attract teens and children due to their high-quality graphics and availability under the 'Game' and 'Entertainment' categories in the app stores," say the study's authors.
According to the study, pro-smoking apps that show that smoking is 'cool' in a cartoon game, and provide a chance to explore the available cigarette brands and even simulate the smoking experience with high-quality, free apps "could potentially increase teens' risk of smoking initiation".
The authors searched the Apple App store and Android Market, using the keywords "smoke," "cigarette," "cigar," "smoking" and "tobacco," and they identified 107 apps that they believe encourage smoking.
Most of the apps were free, and some - but not all - included an age-restriction that said, "Tap OK to confirm that you are 17 or over."
The Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a non-profit organisation that advocates for the reduction of tobacco use, found the study "alarming".
"It is deeply troubling that such a powerful and rapidly expanding marketing tool, one that reaches kids easily and cost-effectively, is being used to promote smoking," said Matthew Myers, the organisation's president.
Myers said the study should prompt action to prevent smartphone apps from becoming a new means of marketing cigarettes to kids.