Pro-Smoking Smart Phone Applications

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A recent publication by researchers in Australia in the journal Tobacco Control titled Pro-smoking apps for smartphones: the latest vehicle for the tobacco industry has found that tobacco products are being promoted via the medium of smart phone applications or ‘apps’ as they are more commonly referred to.[1][2] Online virtual app stores are global which means that pro-smoking apps are available to consumers all over the world.

In February 2012, the researchers in Australia searched both the Apple App store and the Android Market for smoking-related apps. 107 apps were identified as pro-smoking. They subsequently divided these apps into six categories:

1. Tobacco Shop: Apps that contained information on where to buy cigarettes
2. Smoking Simulation: Apps that simulated smoking behaviour
3. Wallpaper: Mobile phone screens can be themed with tobacco-related images such as a cigarette brand
4. Cigarette Battery: Mobile phone battery icon is replaced by a burning cigarette icon
5. Pro-smoking Advocacy: Apps that share opposing views regarding tobacco regulation
6. Cigarette Rolling Information: Information on how to roll cigarettes

Branded Applications

A number of apps that included images of particular cigarette brands were available including:

Tobacco Shops (42/107 apps)
Wallpaper Apps (6/107 apps)

Marlboro Red 3D Live Wallpaper

Since February 2012, a Marlboro wallpaper app has been for sale for £0.63 in the Android Market App store. When downloaded users are able to have a rotating Marlboro Red cigarette packet as their smart phone wallpaper (Image 1). As of November 2012, this application had an install rating of 10-50, which means that at least 10 unique smart phones had downloaded this application.

Philip Morris own the Marlboro brand. According to the app description the app developer ‘SuperTim’ is ‘not affiliated with Philip Morris in any way’.

Camel – Turkish Royal 3D Live Wallpaper


Later in February 2012, a Camel Turkish Royal wallpaper app has been for sale for £0.63 in the Android Market App store (Image 2). RJ Reynolds own the Camel Turkish Royal brand. The app developer ‘SuperTim’ does not mention the Tobacco Company in the product description.

Lucky Strike 3D Live Wallpaper

Since March 2012, a Lucky Strike wallpaper app has been for sale for £1.27 in the Android Market App store (Image 3). British American Tobacco (BAT) own the Lucky Strike brand. The app developer ‘SuperTim’ does not mention BAT in the product description.


Breach of Copyright

The creator of these apps for smart phones is using Tobacco Company brands to create and sell mobile phone apps. This breaches copyright laws. It is also arguably the case that such wallpaper apps allow cigarettes to be advertised on mobile phone screens in countries where cigarette advertising is prohibited. As such, wallpaper apps, which are available globally, may serve to undermine plain packaging legislation in countries such as Australia which have made the move to prohibit branding on tobacco products.

Tobacco Companies oppose plain packaging laws. One of the reasons given for their opposition is that their brands are their trademarks, their intellectual property (IP) and that in taking away their brands, the Government is breaching their copyright. See Industry Arguments on Plain Packaging and Australia: Trademark Claims for more detail and Countering Industry Arguments Against Plain Packaging: It Breaches Intellectual Property Rights for the counter arguments to the industry position. The IP argument is being promoted internationally. However, the Wallpaper apps have been live for over six months and it is not known known whether the Tobacco Companies, whose brands are being used, have taken action to protect their copyright in this instance.

Notes

  1. N. F. BinDihm, B. Freeman, L. Trevena, Pro-smoking apps for smartphones: The latest vehicle for the tobacco industry? ‘’Tobacco Control’’, 2012, doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050598
  2. D. Campbell, Health experts uncover pro-smoking smartphone apps, ‘’The Guardian’’, 23 October 2012, accessed October 2012