by Brandon Butler
Vaping Banned from the App Store 11/18/2019

Let’s start with an easy disclaimer: I don’t smoke, vape, or take illegal drugs of any kind, and I’m a teetotaler. Onto the topic at hand!

Apple has banned and removed all vaping apps and games from the App Store, including those that control the lights and temperature of the vape devices via Bluetooth. My original reaction to reading this news was a resounding “meh” as I don’t use the devices, but then I read John Gruber’s take at Daring Fireball:

I think I’m OK with this overall, but it’s a close call. The stuff about selling cartridges, and sharing news — it’s fine for that stuff to be out of the App Store because you can get it on the web. But Bluetooth stuff where apps were used as the interface for controlling hardware — web apps can’t do that (nor should they be able to). There is no alternative to a native app, and native apps are only available on the App Store. This would be an easy call to make (and would have been made from the get-go by Apple) if vaping were illegal. But it’s not illegal.

I think I disagree. By removing these apps, Apple is disabling control of these connected Bluetooth devices. And as Gruber rightly points out, vaping is still legal. There are apps for marijuana, and there are apps for drinking. These are also legal activities. I’m not sure how vaping is any different in this context, except that vaping has been in the news recently due to some bad publicity over people dying.

Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines specifically now mention “vape products”:

1.4.3 Apps that encourage consumption of tobacco and vape products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol are not permitted on the App Store. 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.

But the App Store is littered with apps that promote alcohol and marijuana, including lots of games. There are also apps like BevMo that allow the sale of alcohol, and apps that simulate cigarette smoking.

Let’s look at some of the apps that appear to directly violate 1.4.3. The app WeedMaps says in the first line of the description, “Find cannabis, CBD, brands, dispensaries, deliveries, deals, and doctors!” The screenshots show maps, pricing, and menus for different locations. This app would appear to both “encourage consumption of” and “[facilitate] the sale of marijuana”.

Then there’s Drink Roulette: Drinking Games. If this app doesn’t “encourage consumption of […] excessive amounts of alcohol”, I’m not sure what app would qualify here. The “hardcore” graphic shows a person on their knees vomiting, ostensibly due to “excessive consumption” of alcohol.

And I’m not scrolling down through hundreds of entries to cherry pick these results. WeedMaps and Drink Roulette are top hits for “marijuana” and “drinking game”, respectively. And this is the same 1.4.3 guideline Apple appears to be ignoring to allow these apps onto the App Store, while simultaneously using to ban all vape apps, regardless of what they do. In fact, 1.4.3 is the only guideline that contains any mention of “vape” as of Monday morning.

I know Apple has a spotty history of enforcing their App Store Guidelines consistently, but this flat ban on an otherwise legal activity feels wrong. Apple is citing the CDC and AHA as saying “these devices [are] a public health crisis and a youth epidemic”, but I guarantee more people are dying from drunk driving or guns than from vaping, and there are plenty of gun and drinking apps to choose from. I don’t see how an app that controls the LEDs of a vape device is somehow worse than Drink Roulette.

And I don’t like that Apple is deciding which Bluetooth devices are allowed to work with your iPhone. It’s not Apple’s place to say if you’re allowed to sync your vape device to your smartphone, but Apple is now making this decision for you. Like Apple has done with pornography and banned it all, either they make the App Store a completely drug and alcohol free environment or they don’t. But they don’t get to decide which legal drugs you or I are allowed to use. There may be a rise in vaping illness and death, but vaping remains legal despite the stupidity of continuing to use it. Syncing your vape device to your phone to control the basic settings is not encouraging consumption, encouraging minors, or facilitating the sale of the product.

This is a really bad decision by Apple.

First they came for the vaping apps
And I did not speak out 
Because I don’t vape…

If you smoke or vape, get help to stop now at lung.org/stop-smoking.