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Virtual Smoking: There's An App For That

(CBS) -- You can do just about anything these days on your smartphone: get directions, pay bills, text, buy something. Now, you can even smoke a virtual cigarette.

CBS 2's Ed Curran has a warning from parents and experts who fear these new apps could encourage kids to start smoking the real thing.

Statistics indicate fewer kids are starting the bad habit. Nearly one of every two 8th-graders had tried cigarettes in the mid-1990s. By last year, just one of every six said they had.

Experts fear apps that let you pretend to roll your own cigarette or simulate smoking may reverse that downward trend.

"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," says Dr. Thomas Glynn of the American Cancer Society.

One father Curran talked with said the apps are shocking and was surprised they're available. He said age restrictions need to be strong to keep minors from getting them.

But one researcher who has studied cigarette advertising feels that just asking about age is enough to discourage most youngsters.

"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," Connie Pechmann of the University of California, Irvine, says.

There are more than 100 pro-smoking apps available. The Federal Trade Commission says there's no evidence any U.S. tobacco company is involved (Two of the largest tobacco companies, Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds, say they have no connection to these apps).

Still, the American Cancer Society feels that the same warnings that appear on cigarette packages should accompany these virtual cigarette apps.

"These warnings should say smoking can kill you, smoking causes cancer, smoking causes heart disease," Glynn says.

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