National

Finding ways to get around ban on tobacco advertising

Millions of smartphone users, including young people, are downloading pro-smoking apps that are potentially breaching laws banning tobacco advertising, researchers says.

The apps, some explicitly displaying cigarette brands, are available under categories including entertainment, games, lifestyle and even health and fitness.

University of Sydney researcher Nasser Dhim says those grouped under health and fitness often claim to help users quit smoking. Users simulate smoking by inhaling and exhaling near the phone's microphone.

One, Hotsmoke, features a virtual cigarette that burns faster if you inhale faster. Another, MyAshTray, displays messages such as ''would be even better with a beer in your hand'' when virtual cigarette ash is dropped in the tray.

Mr Dhim, a PhD candidate and lead author of the study, says there is no evidence smoking simulation helps smokers quit, but there is evidence it reinforces the habit. ''Basically, it is used to enforce that behaviour which is simulated, not to change it,'' he said. ''It's a learning process.''

The study, published yesterday in a British medical journal called Tobacco Control, identified 107 English-language pro-smoking apps, including 65 from the Apple store and 42 from the Android store.

Mr Dhim said the apps had high-quality graphics. Marketing them in the game and entertainment categories would increase their appeal to children and teenagers, who were more likely to download them than adults. AAP