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Apps encouraging teens to smoke

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(WFLX) - These days, it seems like you can do just about anything on your mobile device: text friends, play games, even smoke a cigarette! That's right. You can now download apps that researchers say promote smoking, and experts warn they have the potential to encourage kids to puff.

Dr. Deborah Gilboa often talks to her kids about the risks of smoking. "If we don't mention smoking they're liable to be curious about it on their own," he said.

Now, she has to talk to them about the dangers at hand -- both in the real world and in the virtual one

Millions of people worldwide are now downloading mobile apps that researchers say promote smoking. The American Cancer Society warns they appear to be targeting teens and children, with some rated for kids as young as 12.

"Ninety percent of adults who go on to smoke throughout their life began as children, so parents need to be aware that these are not benign or innocuous apps," said  Dr. Thomas Glynn, American Cancer Society.

More than 100 pro-smoking apps are available, ranging from virtual smoke sessions, to nicotine-themed battery widgets, to tobacco shops where you can roll your own cigarettes. Consumer researcher Connie Pechmann says smoking simulation apps have sparked the most interest. "You can put the phone next to your mouth where the microphone is and inhale and exhale and see the cigarette burn down," she said.

Pechmann likens these apps to advertisements. "They make smoking look attractive and cool and edgy and fun and something you can do with your friend," she said.

Right now, the app world is largely unregulated, and the FTC says there is no evidence any U.S. tobacco company is involved. "We do know that in a number of the apps, specific tobacco products and specific types of cigarettes are named, and we have not heard any outcry from the tobacco industry about that," said Dr. Thomas Glynn of the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Gilboa was surprised at how easy the apps were to access on her android. "There's nothing you have to click that says I promise I am number of years old.

iTunes only asks for a simple age confirmation. Pechmann says more safeguards are needed. "All you need to do is ask the kid ‘What year were you born, and how old are you now' and that will throw off any 12-year-old," said Pechmann.

The American Cancer Society would also like to see warnings on the apps themselves. "These warnings should say smoking can kill you, smoking causes cancer, smoking causes heart disease," said Dr. Glynn.

For now, experts say, parents should keep the lines of communication open, just like Dr. Gilboa. "This makes the whole conversation about smoking new again," he said.

We contacted R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris international. Both told us they have no connection to these apps.

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