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November 16, 2019

Apple Removes Vaping Content from the App Store

Apple removed 181 vaping apps from its App Store yesterday, preventing developers from updating them and new phone buyers from downloading them. Existing users may continue to use them for now, but future iOS updates may render them unusable.

The change wasn’t entirely unexpected. Apple had announced in early 2017 that it would no longer accept new vaping apps from developers. The new policy will prevent updates to existing apps as well.

Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines have been updated to reflect the new policy. “Apps that encourage consumption of tobacco and vape products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol are not permitted on the App Store,” says the company. “Apps that encourage minors to consume any of these substances will be rejected. Facilitating the sale of marijuana, tobacco, or controlled substances (except for licensed pharmacies) isn’t allowed.”

The changes are a mixed bag for vapers. Apparently, few nicotine vapers rely on iOS apps. There were coil-building calculators, but not much else. According to DIY expert Jennifer Winstead, e-liquid mixing apps are not popular. Indeed, I couldn’t even find a mention of Apple’s decision on the of the e-Liquid Recipes forum page.

However, cannabis oil and flower vapers will be affected by the move. Many cannabis vaporizers use Bluetooth technology to allow users to control the settings on their devices through smartphones. Most high-end dry herb vaporizers use proprietary iOS or Android apps to control the settings.

Some manufacturers have gone even further with their apps. The PAX Era—which uses proprietary pods that are filled by licensed cannabis oil processing companies in legal states—offers a feature called PODID that verifies the contents of the pod on the user’s phone when it is connected to the device. The readout on the PAX smartphone app shows results of lab testing, and specific detail about the contents of the cannabis oil in the pod.

“I loved the idea of patients being able to monitor usage and identify product and test results on their iPhones,” medical cannabis patient Jason Perlow wrote on ZDNet. “Now, they can’t. I guess I’m going back to stupid battery sticks and non-connected pods and flower vapes for the foreseeable future. Thanks for breaking my medical device and perpetuating marijuana stigma, Apple.”

Because many cannabis vapers are concerned about untested THC carts, which are probably responsible for the recent outbreak of severe lung injuries, tech like the PAX app can offer peace of mind to cannabis oil vapers.

Apple cites concerns over the lung injuries as a reason for removing vaping apps, providing a perfect unintended example of how prohibition and abstinence-only messaging only make drug use more dangerous. They want to protect people from black market THC products causing lung damage, so they remove apps that can prevent the problem.

“We take great care to curate the App Store as a trusted place for customers, particularly youth, to download apps,” Apple told Axios. “We’re constantly evaluating apps, and consulting the latest evidence, to determine risks to users’ health and well-being.

“Recently, experts ranging from the CDC to the American Heart Association have attributed a variety of lung injuries and fatalities to e-cigarette and vaping products, going so far as to call the spread of these devices a public health crisis and a youth epidemic,” Apple added. “We agree, and we’ve updated our App Store Review Guidelines to reflect that apps encouraging or facilitating the use of these products are not permitted. As of today, these apps are no longer available to download.”

Calling the App Store a “trusted place” for youth is interesting. The site has dozens of hookup apps, including ones aimed at people seeking threesomes and BDSM partners. Those apps are age-restricted.

Why couldn’t Apple simply limit vaping apps to adult customers too?

Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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Jeremy Mann
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Jeremy Mann

Q: Why couldn’t Apple simply limit vaping apps to adult customers too?

A: Because it’s not about nor has it ever been about “protecting the kids.”

p.s. I know that was a rhetorical question, Jim.

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