The POTV forum has had an app for over three years now, it is a third party product that wraps the forum content into an app that can be installed on Apple and Android phones to make access easier for vapers who use our forum. The app provides push alerts for notifications and many vapers have found it a great help over the years.
We submitted an update to Apple back in November and were surprised to have waited so long for the update to be approved – we were even more surprised when we received the following message from the app review team last night:
Jan 24, 2017 at 10:50 PM
Safety - 1.4.3
We found that your app facilitates the sale or promotes the use of tobacco or nicotine-related paraphernalia, including but not limited to cigarettes, pipes, hookahs, and/or e-cigarettes, which is not permitted on the App Store.
Please review your app concept and determine whether you can incorporate content and features that are in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines.
So we checked their app review guidelines – section 1.4.3 – it states “
Apps should not encourage illegal or excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol; or encourage minors to consume drugs, alcohol, or tobacco; and facilitating the sale of marijuana isn’t allowed.”
Thinking it must be some mistake we messaged them back:
Jan 25, 2017 at 12:05 AM
From ******@planetofthevapes.co.uk (Planet of the Vapes Limited)
Thanks for your message. I have read the iOS review guidelines and I cannot find anything on there concerning the use of nicotine containing products. Our forum is a site for vapers, people who are making, or have made, the step to give up cigarettes and move to a much less harmful alternative. In our opinion this is something that Apple should be supporting rather than attempting to stifle by blocking the sharing of information.
Public Health England reported in 2015 that vaping is 95% safer than smoking. Many health professionals, governments and scientific bodies are showing increasing support for vaping as a valid route for harm reduction, it would be shame if Apple was highlighted as being against what has been termed the greatest health benefit that the world will see in our lifetime.
Your app store guidelines only mention tobacco in this section:
1.4.3 Apps should not encourage illegal or excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol; or encourage minors to consume drugs, alcohol, or tobacco; and facilitating the sale of marijuana isn’t allowed.
We do not encourage the excessive use of drugs, we only discuss the use of legal drugs (nicotine is a legal drug in the same way that caffeine is a legal drug), we strictly enforce an over 18s only policy - we certainly do not encourage use by minors. Our site supports people who have moved to vaping as a long term replacement for cigarettes, many of whom access our site via the app which you have rejected I am sure that they will not be impressed to learn of Apple's viewpoint on what they see as their own site due to the strong community nature of our forum.
If you could please be specific as to what guidelines we are breaking with our app I would be most grateful, we are happy to make any changes required if you can demonstrate exactly where our app breaches your Review Guidelines.
We were promptly messaged back and asked to confirm contact details and that we would get a call within the next three days. We got the call at about 9pm UK time yesterday and were told by a member of the app review team, Vadim, that due to a recent change in policy any apps that contain content relating to nicotine and tobacco, including e-cigarettes and vaping would not be allowed.
We asked for clarification from someone higher up the Apple tree and were called back not long after by another Apple staffer named Erica, she confirmed what Vadim had told me,
“Yes, this is a change in policy. From time to time policies do change. In the past this was fine but we are not accepting any tobacco or nicotine content at all now. This will be for new and updated apps.”
”As we discussed, we found that your app facilitates the sale or promotes the use of tobacco or nicotine-related paraphernalia, including but not limited to cigarettes, pipes, hookahs, and/or e-cigarettes, which is not permitted on the app store.”
We pointed out section 1.4.3 on the Review Guidelines and asked if these would be updated to reflect Apple’s change in policy.
“This is not on the website and I do not know of any plans to update the published guidelines.”
On being told that PHE stated that vaping was 95% safer than cigarettes, that vaping had helped many thousands of people move away from smoking and that surely excluding vape material from the app store was counter-intuitive to supporting public health we were told
“This is a business decision and we do not go into the reasons for this decision.”
This is not a great business decision for people who have spent time and money investing in the app market. It doesn’t hurt us greatly; we pay a small sum each month for the hosting of our app but there are companies out there who may be in the middle of developing more complex apps that will be rejected despite there being no mention on the Apple site regarding their new policy of rejecting all apps with content covering tobacco and nicotine.
There are over 2 million apps on the app store at present, a quick Google search would suggest somewhere in the region of 20-50,000 vape related apps on the app store.
There are 1,210 about gin, 4,650 about beer and 6,210 about wine. I dread to think how many gambling apps there are. Call us churlish if you like but to be OK with supporting alcohol and gambling but not vaping seems unevenly harsh on vaping. Anyone would think that maybe some external pressure has been brought to bear on the Apple management team to make such a decision. Either that or they have read too many stories about exploding batteries of late...
Either way, if you are planning on releasing an app to Apple’s App Store soon then make sure you check if the content will pass their review team before spending too much time and money on it.
Is Apple rejecting vaping related apps in its app store a signal that a wider mass-media clamp down could be on the way? Will Google do the same for its Android market place follow suit? Will Facebook clamp down on vape related groups? Let’s hope that this draconian stifling of free speech, this digital nanny statism is the only occurrence we will see. Fingers crossed Apple will wise-up and reverse this harmful move.
If you work for Apple and have any further details on their new policy or want to discuss this further, you can find a thread about it on our forum here.