Apple, Android apps blamed for teen smoking. Is that so?

Apple, Android apps blamed for teen smoking. Is that so?

Summary: 'Apps make smoking sexy' -- we always look for the next thing to blame, don't we?


According to a new study from the University of Sydney, free apps downloadable from the Apple App Store or Google Play may encourage smoking behavior.

smoking teenagers android apple apps rubbish

In a truly British fashion, what utter tosh.

We live in a toxic environment. Pollutants from vehicles fill our lungs, we binge drink, and demonize smokers while munching away on that takeaway burger or second donut. If we listened to the UK's Daily Mail, everything from bacon to being a woman (or man), having a bubble bath or wearing flip flops will give us cancer. I need my cancer-inducing coffee -- in spite of the health warning.

But I digress.

Yes, smoking is bad. We smell like an ashtray, we stain our teeth, screw up our lungs, and pay tax through the nose for our nicotine fix, all while enjoying an extra five minutes off work to the scowls of our smoke-free colleagues. However, rather than blaming ourselves or our culture, we go after the 'big, bad' tech firms -- since they are the propagators of the latest trend -- the downloading of apps on to mobile devices.

Applications promote smoking? But there's nothing on social media -- YouTube, blogs, articles, or online games for that matter that could encourage less-than-healthy behavior. What is the world coming to? It's not as if stores sell cigarettes, or even skirt around the law by selling cannabis accessories.

Blame the apps. May the technology gods on high smite tech firms for allowing such things. 

The study looked at 107 apps in the Apple App Store and on the Android market -- now known as Google Play -- that contain 700,000 and 600,000 apps respectively. Published in Tobacco Control, the researchers say that "pro-smoking" apps found in both stores could increase teen risk of smoking.

So what's included in the apps? Smoking brands, information on where to buy cigarettes and images of tobacco. Nothing we don't see in our daily lives, hear about or even witness, then. 

If someone is enough of an idiot to download an app called "Puff Puff Pass", where the only point of the game is to smoke and pass along a cigarette, they are probably going to smoke either way -- or already do. Simply downloading an app that suggests "Smoking is cool! Look, you gain points and a gold star by pretending to smoke!" is highly unlikely to turn a non-smoker into a 60-a-day addict. (Especially if you live in the U.K. or U.S., the prices are through the roof, no?)

The authors of the paper wrote:

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.

myAshtray really makes smoking sexy - don't you agree?

There are two main points to consider here. First, that "smoking is cool" in a cartoon. South Park includes blood and murder -- and aliens, for some reason -- in every episode -- and yet, I don't think they're cool. I'm not going to immediately feel indoctrinated enough to grab a cleaver and lop off the head of the first person I see. If I walk past a pub and see a person having a beer or cigarette, this tiny thing called "self-control" generally stops me from joining them.

Secondly, you cannot expect to simulate an oral and chemical fixative through an app and then feel the urge to do it in reality. Teenagers smoke because they explore and experiment. Parties, peer pressure, and alcohol use are more likely culprits than a cartoon ashtray that gives you points for the amount of cigarettes you stub out. 

If a teenager is going to start smoking, it's more likely that will happen when a group is passing a cigarette behind the bike sheds rather than viewing it on an app and thinking "Yeah! This cartoon is subliminally telling me it's cool, I'll borrow $20 off my parents and do it."

In all fairness, there was one point that the researchers made -- that the content violates the World Health Organization (WHO) convention on tobacco control, which stops the advertising of tobacco promotion across media.

Long gone are the days when children played with fake cigarette packets -- the concern being that this kind of subliminal advertising would make them choose particular brands in later life, prompted by childhood memories of feeling safe, secure and happy. 

Promoting alcohol is still fine, don't you worry

Bottom line: society cannot demonize the app ecosystem due to a few pathetic, pointless applications like "Puff Puff Pass" or "myAshtray". If users find this entertaining, the likelihood is that they already smoke -- rather than they want to download these types of 'entertainment' to see if smoking is actually cool.

Smoking is an individual choice, albeit an unpopular one in this day and age. By pushing the blame on to big-name tech firms and their services, we once again remove the personal responsibility we have for downloading that app, buying those cigarettes, or choosing to smoke with pint in hand -- or outside the school gates just to "fit in".

It's not down to the providers of an online store, no more than it's the kitchen knife manufacturer's fault when a man stabs his wife using the implement. It is an issue laid at the feet of personal choice. 

Topics: Security, Apps, Health, Social Enterprise

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  • This explains everything...

    Thank you, University of Sydney. I now know why I keep throwing birds at the frogs in my backyard.
    • At the frogs ???

      Or the green pigs your neighbor has in his back yard??
  • They may have a point

    The University of Sydney study may have a point. After all, teen smoking was never a problem before we had smart phones.
  • Don't think so

    Tobacco companies certainly try their hardest to glamorize smoking without incurring the wrath of courts and governments, but I suspect that parental example and tolerance are the most important factors behind underage smoking (noting that few smokers start as adults). Thus, if you don't want your children to smoke, you know where to start.

    The good news is that a smoking habit is a lot harder to hide than are most other drug habits.
    John L. Ries
  • Ugh...

    We have always had teens smoking. Hell, my first smoke was when I was 16... did not even have a smartphone then. Only had one cig though.
  • Right; Advertising Never Works

    Tobacco companies have updated their marketing techniques, and, as usual, they've left all the unimaginative Luddites--even those who ostensibly write for tech outfits--way, way behind.
    • Of course it works...

      ...otherwise, they wouldn't do it. But the chances that a teenager will pick up smoking without his parents/guardians knowing about it are pretty slim, don't you think?
      John L. Ries
  • smoking is very good for you, what's the matter?!?

    i smoke since kindergarden
    and i fell excellent, it helps me focus and be more creative :-) LOL
    and we did not have too many app stores in late 60s
    i do not believe that technology is encouraging smoking
    smoking rocks
    Dan Marinescu
  • Ever read any medical/science journals?

    The tobacco industry has been fighting on the teen-smoking/advertising front for 50 years, with just these arguments:

    --Disinformation: False assertions, un-referenced by anything, that fly in the face of normal science: teens don't respond to advertising (that's why the 3 most smoked brands by teens in the US are the 3 most advertised). My favorite line: "If a teenager is going to start smoking, it's more likely that will happen when a group is passing a cigarette." (Of course there's no science here whatsoever.)

    --Misrepresentation: Hey, it's all around us anyway, nothing new here, move along folks, don't regulate us, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain . . .

    --Misdirection: Oh, look over there! Some other issue! Don't regulate US, not when people are also drinking, running traffic lights and catching colds. And don't forget the world economic crisis.

    --Simplification and Ridicule. Push the issue to extremes so you can pretend to laugh at it, as with the "If a teen sees an ad, he/she will immediately go for a cig" bit. Studies have shown that, with time and exposure, a teen will indeed feel far more favorable toward smoking. Ads, and lots of them, DO create a culture of acceptance.

    --Misframing: Hey, people shoot each other in films, don't they? But watch the outcry if films started promoting teens shooting and killing; or glamorizing, say, teens lying in the middle of the road at night as a prank, etc. That's the difference: when you actively create/enhance/promote that culture of acceptance, of smoking.

    --Ignoring the literature. Besides all the myriad, established teen smoking/advertising/movies data, recent studies in India and Brazil have shown how the introduction of television into isolated communities has consistently decreased family size and even ancient patriarchal power, in large part because of the more enlightened programs being shown. Technology's content CAN AND DOES influence culture. Not difficult to grasp.

    --Straw man: Osborne says only a small percentage of apps promote smoking. 40 years ago, you could have said tobacco ads were only .01% of all ads too--that means nothing.

    --Demonizing the "demonizers": No one's demonizing "the app ecosystem." It requires no protection. And there HAVE been journal articles on the promotion of smoking on the web, and Youtube in particular. But this is all just more misdirection, sent out to warn anyone who dares to critique the tobacco industry that they'll be attacked right back. The industry is sacrosanct.

    --Choice: Ah, "choice." Smoking's not an addiction (usually acquired in childhood) of course, it's a "choice." As Gary Trudeau's Mr. Butts said long ago, in a front cover, NYTimes magazine strip titled "How do they sleep at Night?":

    "And ya gotta love CHOICE!"

    --"Unpopular product": No, smoking hasn't been proven to kill millions a year around the world, leaving untold families bereft and impoverished in more ways than one--oh no, it's just, for some crazy, undefinable reason I can't figure out, "unpopular."

    --And here's the industry's favorite shibboleth of all, a line meant to absolve them of any culpability whatsoever in the deaths of millions, and to allow their continuing efforts to addict the only people naive enough to begin smoking, teens:


    What a compilation here, virtually complete tobacco industry PR, without any indication an actual medical journal on the subject has ever been seen.