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Tobacco industry uses pro-smoking apps in violation of WHO Framework

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The tobacco industry is using smartphone apps - a medium that can reach children - to promote its products, in violation of World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which bans the advertising and promotion of tobacco, researchers in Tobacco Control have warned.

In February 2012, the researchers searched two of the largest smartphone app stores (Apple and Android Market) for the availability of English language pro-smoking apps, using the keywords: 'smoke,' 'cigarette,' 'cigar,' 'smoking' and 'tobacco.' Pro-smoking was defined as any app that provided information about brands of tobacco, where to buy products, images of brands and cigarettes, and any trigger cues for smoking.

The study found 107 pro-smoking apps including some that allowed the user to simulate smoking. In all, 48 were classed as smoking simulation; 42 as shop/brands; nine depicted a burning cigarette to show the amount of phone battery left; six as background wallpaper; one as advocating smoking; and one giving information on roll-ups. Forty two of the apps were from the Android Market and had been downloaded by 6 million people. The most popular Android apps were those for smoking simulation. The report authors acknowledged some of the simulation apps claim to aid smoking cessation, although there is no evidence to show that this approach works.

But these were included because they either resembled cigarette brands or because they were published under the headings of 'entertainment,' 'games,' or 'lifestyle.' The authors found out that in 2011, the number of mobile phone subscribers had reached just under 6 billion-2.5 times more than the total number of internet subscribers-and that smartphones account for around one in three handsets in the developed world. Young people are particularly vulnerable, because of the popularity of smartphones among this age group, and the appeal of the apps, according to the authors.

They cite the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom, which, in 2011, found that almost half of the teens it surveyed owned a smartphone, and an analysis by the Nielsen Company, which showed that in the second quarter of 2010, US teen mobile phone subscribers had increased their download app frequency to 38% from 26% the previous year. Downloading apps from the Apple store does prompt messages about age restrictions when the content is smoking or classed as 'high maturity,' but there are no such warnings in the Android Market, according to the authors.

The news comes just days after a study in The Lancet found women that give up smoking before the age of 30 cut the risk of tobacco-related death by 97.

The study into the effects of tobacco in more than one million women in the UK by Oxford university, found women who smoke into middle-age have three times the death rate of non-smokers and risk dying at least 10 years early.

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