Vaping-Related Mobile Apps Available in the Google Play Store after the Apple Ban: Content Review

Meredith C. Meacham, Erin A. Vogel, Johannes Thrul

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: In response to health concerns about vaping devices (eg, youth nicotine use, lung injury), Apple removed 181 previously approved vaping-related apps from the App Store in November 2019. This policy change may lessen youth exposure to content that glamorizes vaping; however, it may also block important sources of information and vaping device control for adults seeking to use vaping devices safely. Objective: Understanding the types of nicotine and cannabis vaping–related apps still available in the competing Google Play Store can shed light on how digital apps may reflect information available to consumers. Methods: In December 2019, we searched the Google Play Store for vaping-related apps using the keywords "vape" and "vaping" and reviewed the first 100 apps presented in the results. We reviewed app titles, descriptions, screenshots, and metadata to categorize the intended substance (nicotine or cannabis/tetrahydrocannabinol) and the app’s purpose. The most installed apps in each purpose category were downloaded and evaluated for quality and usability with the Mobile App Rating Scale. Results: Of the first 100 apps, 79 were related to vaping. Of these 79 apps, 43 (54%) were specific to nicotine, 3 (4%) were specific to cannabis, 1 (1%) was intended for either, and for the remaining 31 (39%), the intended substance was unclear. The most common purposes of the apps were making do-it-yourself e-liquids (28/79, 35%) or coils (25/79, 32%), games/entertainment (19/79, 24%), social networking (16/79, 20%), and shopping for vaping products (15/79, 19%). Of the 79 apps, at least 4 apps (5%) paired with vaping devices to control temperature or dose settings, 8 apps (10%) claimed to help people quit smoking using vaping, and 2 apps (3%) had the goal of helping people quit vaping. Conclusions: The majority of vaping-related apps in the Google Play Store had features either to help users continue vaping, such as information for modifying devices, or to maintain interest in vaping. Few apps were for controlling device settings or assisting with quitting smoking or vaping. Assuming that these Google Play Store apps were similar in content to the Apple App Store apps that were removed, it appears that Apple’s ban would have a minimal effect on people who vape with the intention of quitting smoking or who are seeking information about safer vaping via mobile apps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20009
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Volume22
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Keywords

  • Cannabis
  • Mobile apps
  • Nicotine
  • Vaping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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