Vaping apps were never popular enough to be a problem

Who actually uses vaping apps?
Who actually uses vaping apps?
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Apple’s recent decision to remove all vaping-related apps shouldn’t have come entirely as a shock. The company has a history of removing apps it finds controversial. Back in 2017, the tech giant stopped accepting new nicotine-related apps as well as updates for existing apps. In June, Apple announced that it would cease accepting new vaping apps to the App Store.

Axios reported on Nov. 15 that the tech giant would remove 181 vaping-related apps from the App Store. The company cited a recent analysis from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that linked lung injuries and deaths to vaping. While it was never possible to buy vaping products through an iOS app, the company said it updated its guidelines to ensure that apps that were  “encouraging or facilitating the use of these products” were not allowed.

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

But it’s unclear how much of a positive impact Apple’s vaping app ban will really have. Vaping products that integrate with apps are still a novelty. Juul, the popular e-cigarette manufacturer, launched an Android-only app this year, and it is currently only available in Canada and the UK. The app tracks smoking habits and includes a device lock.

Jim McDonald, the news editor at Vaping360, told Quartz that very few users of nicotine vapes even needed the apps. Many of the apps impacted by the ban include Ohm’s Law (a mathematical equation used to calculate current, voltage and resistance) and other type of resistance calculators. Such tools can help users build their own electrical coils, which are used to heat up the liquids used in vaping.

“There are a few apps for nicotine-based vaping, mostly for real involved hobbyists who build their own coils for atomizers,” said McDonald. Atomizers are a term for any device that vaporizes e-liquids. He said the practice of DIY coil building has become less common over the years as more high-quality pre-made coils and pod vapes (such as Juul) have entered the market.

In 2019, the practice of coil building has become pretty arcane. “I mean, maybe 5% of vapers build their own coils,” said McDonald.

But McDonald thinks the ban will pose a problem for the many app-integrated Bluetooth cannabis vaporizers on the market, such as the Pax 3 and ERA products—which have been called “the iPhone of vapes”—along with the Ghost MV1, the DaVinci IQ, and others. Pax recently launched a feature in its mobile app called PodID, which identifies the ingredients in each pod. Other features let users set limits on the amount of marijuana they want to inhale, as well as lock the device so that anyone who shouldn’t be using it can’t.

As Jason Perlow noted on ZDNet, Apple’s ban on vaping apps will impact those who use such devices for medicinal marijuana. “I guess that this means, as patients, we can’t have sleek, app-controlled, or connected medical vaping devices now,” wrote Perlow. Apple has increasingly pushed to style its devices, like the Apple Watch, as health products.

But while the apps are an added perk for users of connected vaporizers, none require an app to operate. In most cases, users without the app can perform functions like controlling the temperature or checking the battery level manually.

Mladen Barbaric, the CEO of Airgraft, an app-enabled vaporizer, told Quartz that Apple’s ban does nothing about the numerous black market vaping products and liquids that have been linked to deaths. ”The products that pose issues are analog, unsophisticated devices used with unregulated liquids and will be in no way affected by the Apple ban,” Barbaric wrote. He also noted that apps can be used to verify age, hold companies accountable for their products, and give tools to users to consume responsibly.

In light of Apple’s ban, Airgraft said its developers plan to switch gears and find another way to deliver information to its iPhone users. “iOS native apps are a great way to host a digital experience, but not the only way,” Barbaric said. “The bulk of our system is hosted on servers which communicate with our devices, while iOS app serves as a visual interface, much like a webpage.”

Other vaping apps helped users mix their own e-juice, the concentrated nicotine and flavors found in a vape. This practice known as “DIY mixing,” is on the rise. Robert Strongin, a professor at Portland State University who studies e-cigarettes, said DIY mixing is dangerous due to a “lack of knowledge” about the toxicity of certain ingredients and harmful interactions. Still, Strongin said he’s doubtful that Apple’s ban will do much to curtail the practice. “I don’t think Apple’s ban on apps alone will help, as there are so many other sources for DIY and related info for vapers,” Strongin said.

DIY vapers already have a litany of information to turn to online, including a thriving Reddit community, YouTube tutorials, DIY recipe kits, and online recipes. DIY expert Jennifer Winstead told Vaping360 that the apps were not popular with the community at large. Many find the apps to be unreliable and simply don’t use them.

But apps still have their fans. A number of DIY mixing apps on the Google Play Store, including E-Liquid Calculator and E-Liquid Recipes, have ratings of four stars or above. Google has not followed in Apple’s footsteps and still allows vaping-related apps on its Play Store—at least for now. Back in May, however, Google banned all apps related to marijuana sales from the Play Store, even in states where such transactions are legal.