Apple removed 181 vaping apps from its online store on Friday, following the lead of federal, state and local regulators, which in recent months have cracked down on e-cigarette products.
The prohibition affects apps that help people find vape stores or flavors, allow them to control their vape pens, or gain access to games, news or social networks that promote vaping.
Apple’s vaping app ban is the second significant step the iPhone maker has taken to distance itself from e-cigarettes. The company updated its App Store rules in June to ban new vaping apps, and the move announced on Friday removed the apps it had approved before that decision. The company said it had never allowed apps that sold vaping products.
In a statement, Apple cited the rise of lung injuries and deaths linked to vaping. Health experts have recently called “the spread of these devices a public health crisis and a youth epidemic,” the company said. “We agree.”
Cases of vaping-related illnesses have been rising, with more than 40 deaths and more than 2,000 illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The C.D.C. has urged people to avoid vaping anything because the cause of illnesses remains unclear.
Apple’s vaping app ban reflects its hands-on approach to the App Store, which distributes about 1.8 million apps to iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices.
Apple requires its employees to manually review each app that applies to the store, encompassing about 100,000 apps a week. They reject about 40 percent. In a weekly meeting, a small team of top executives debate tricky cases of whether a given app belongs on Apple devices.
That approach has led to nuanced rules, an App Store with less fraud than other app marketplaces and criticism that Apple abuses its control of the marketplace.
In June, Apple added vaping to its ban on apps that encouraged the use of tobacco, illegal drugs or “excessive amounts of alcohol.” But Apple still allows cannabis-related apps, as long as they are restricted to adults and certain states and don’t offer sales or explicitly encourage recreational use.
Apple prohibits dozens of other categories of apps; the restrictions include the typical prohibitions on nudity, hate speech and physical harm. There is also a broad ban on apps that are “offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, in exceptionally poor taste or just plain creepy,” as well as more nuanced bans on things as diverse as prank-call apps and apps that show maimed animals.
Google’s app store for Android devices is more permissive, and a search on Friday yielded dozens of vaping-related apps.
Apple’s strict approach has drawn criticism. Last year, Apple began removing or restricting apps that helped people limit the time they and their children spent on iPhones, shortly after Apple released a competing tool. After The New York Times reported on Apple’s moves in April, Apple backed off on the policy.
Apple has also removed a number of apps at the behest of government officials in China, including those from news organizations like The Times and Quartz and an app that helped Hong Kong protesters track the police.
Apple users who have already downloaded vaping apps will be able to continue using them, though the apps will probably lose abilities as Apple continues to update iPhone software.
Apple said many of the vaping apps it had removed were from stores showing off their vaping products, though users couldn’t buy anything in the apps. Some other apps that were banned helped adjust temperature and color, Apple said, though they weren’t necessary for the vaping device to function.
Because of spikes in the use of e-cigarettes among minors, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce measures soon that could involve banning most flavored e-cigarettes, including mint.
Prohibiting menthol was mentioned earlier, but the vaping and tobacco industries have intensively lobbied the White House and lawmakers against such a broad ban, given that traditional menthol cigarettes remain on the market.
Juul Labs, the nation’s largest seller of e-cigarettes, recently said it would discontinue sales of mint-flavored pods, after the latest national surveys showed that teenagers cited fruit and mint as their favorites.
Restrictions on e-cigarette products are also gaining momentum at the state and local level. San Francisco, where Juul is based, will ban sales of e-cigarettes entirely in 2020 after voters this month overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed sales to continue in the city under stricter controls.
Apple’s ban was supported by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “By taking e-cigarette related apps off the App Store, Apple will help reduce youth exposure to e-cigarette marketing and discourage youth use of these products,” said Matthew L. Myers, the president of the campaign.
News of Apple’s decision was first reported by Axios.