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Apple removes all vaping related apps from App Store

The crackdown on vaping has made its way to Apple's App Store. According to a report from Axios, Apple is removing more than 181 vaping apps and games related to vaping from its app marketplace following a governmental crackdown on vapes and e-cigarettes — the fallout of a significant uptick in cases of severe lung disease linked to the devices. Going forward, Apple will remove any vape-related app and will not accept new apps that are related to vaping.

Apple has largely viewed the world of vaping with skepticism from the start. The company never allowed the sale of e-cigarette refills or vaping cartridges on its platform and stopped accepting new vaping related apps back in June. But the decision to fully remove the apps is a drastic step. Users who have already downloaded the apps pegged for removal won't have the services simply disappear from their device — they will remain available, though largely unsupported going forward as updates won't be available through the App Store. If you don't already have the apps, you won't be able to get them.

The move by Apple could significantly hinder some vaping products. A number of vapes and e-cigarettes include companion apps that allow users to adjust different settings on their device, ranging from the display of lights to the actual level of heat it produces. It. doesn't seem as though any vape will be rendered useless by having its mobile app wiped out, but it will limit the experience and convenience for some users — an outcome that Apple is largely fine with.

Apple's decision to ditch vaping apps probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The company maintains a pretty tight grip on what it allows in the App Store — for better or worse. Earlier this year, Apple was rightfully dragged for removing an app used by protesters in Hong Kong to avoid police, who have taken to engaging in excessive force against people in the streets. But removing vaping apps comes a lot closer to falling directly within Apple's existing policy. Within the company's App Store Guidelines, which were last updated September 12, the company explicitly states that "Apps that encourage consumption of tobacco and vape products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol are not permitted on the App Store." It also notes that any app that promotes the consumption of any of those substances to minors will be removed.

While there may certainly be debate over whether any vaping app explicitly promotes minors to use the products, it's pretty undeniable that the companies themselves do exactly that. While vape makers and sellers may deny that, a study conducted by Stanford University researchers found that Juul marketing campaigns from 2015 to 2018 were "patently youth-oriented" and often borrowed directly from advertising tactics once used by the tobacco industry. Earlier this year, a U.S. congressional hearing revealed that Juul representatives told teens and high school students that its products were "totally safe" and sponsored youth smoking-prevention and education programs in an attempt to get its own products in front of kids. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to Juul for its marketing practices, including its youth outreach efforts.

Juul's tactics over the years seem to have been quite effective. Use of and access to vapes and e-cigs has increased significantly in the last few years, and the user base skews young. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that more than one-in-three 12th graders reported using an e-cigarette in 2018 after just one in four claimed to use one in 2017. A recent study published by the FDA found that one in four high schoolers currently and actively vape, and most kids have at least been exposed to vapes at some point — either by using a device themselves or seeing their friends use one. An advisory from Surgeon General Jerome Adams referred to teen vaping "an epidemic."

All of that — the marketing campaigns, the increased exposure and use among young people and the largely unregulated nature of these devices — has culminated in a health epidemic. At least 42 people have died this year from vaping related lung injuries, according to the CDC, and there have been nearly 2,200 confirmed and probable cases of severe respiratory illnesses linked to vapes and e-cigarettes across 49 states. The situation is bad enough to have been declared a public health crisis by the CDC and the American Heart Association.

It's not clear just how much of a role that mobile apps play in enabling or encouraging the use of vapes, but Apple isn't taking any risks. The company has decided to remove itself from the vape business all together, ditching anything that bares any semblance of promoting the use of vapes. It probably won't stop anyone from vaping, just because an app suddenly stops working or isn't available to download, but in Apple's view, it certainly can't hurt to try.