Canopy Growth slams Apple for ‘knee-jerk’ App Store ban

Apple’s sweeping ban on vaping-related mobile apps is a “knee-jerk” response to health concerns over e-cigarettes, according to pot giant Canopy Growth. (WEED.TO)(CGC) The producer said the decision affects devices for medical cannabis patients and denies users access to safety controls that prevent use by children.

Last month, Apple (AAPL) removed 181 mobile applications related to vaping from its App Store. Software purged by Apple allows users to control lighting, temperature, locks and games on their vape device from their iPhone via bluetooth.

The smartphone-maker cited commentary from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Heart Association on lung injuries and fatalities from e-cigarette and vaping products. Vaping-related apps downloaded prior to the ban continue to function, and can be transferred to new devices. 

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Canopy Growth unveiled its cannabis vape pens and cartridges at a launch event in Toronto last week. Like other cannabis and nicotine vape devices currently on the market, Canopy’s offerings come with an app-based passcode lock to disable the device, and location and temperature controls. Those features will be available on an Android app when the products are released mid-December. 

Chief technology officer Peter Popplewell led the two-year development of Canopy’s new vape portfolio. He’s also the managing director of Storz & Bickel, the German medical device manufacturer known for its high-end dry herb vaporizers that Canopy Growth acquired for $220 million last year. The Storz & Bickel app was among the software removed from the app store in November. 

Canopy Growth unveiled its line of cannabis vape products at an event in Toronto on Nov. 28, 2019. (Provided)
Canopy Growth unveiled its line of cannabis vape products at an event in Toronto on Nov. 28, 2019. (Provided)

“It’s unfortunate that Apple made the decision to cast a very broad net and take down all vaporizer-related apps,” Popplewell told Yahoo Finance Canada in an interview. “It’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction that really stems from the unregulated space that is in the U.S. right now.”

U.S. health officials have reported 47 deaths linked to vape usage, and more than 2,000 cases of vaping-related lung illness. Canadian health authorities have confirmed four cases of severe lung illness related to vaping, and have identified seven “probable” cases

Popplewell said he continues to have a dialogue with Apple about being shut out of the App Store, and sees the ban as a temporary set back. Smartphone apps are important, he said, because they save manufacturers from adding bulky buttons and screens to devices as they add more safety features and functions. 

“Right now, Apple isn’t taking the time to identify the apps that offer safety features. If I’m Apple, that shouldn’t sit well,” he said.

Apple spokesperson Elliot Chun declined to answer questions about the company’s decision to ban apps for cannabis vaporizers. He referred Yahoo Finance Canada to a section of the App Store Review Guidelines pertaining to “physical harm.”

“Apps that encourage consumption of tobacco and vape products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol are not permitted on the App Store,” the section reads in part.

Canopy Growth's latest vape products will connect to an Android app. (Provided)
Canopy Growth's latest vape products will connect to an Android app. (Provided)

The term “vape” has been broadly applied to regulated and unregulated products spanning nicotine liquids and cannabis extracts, as well as devices that simply use heat to vaporize the active ingredients in dried cannabis flower. 

Both cannabis and nicotine liquid vape pens have been linked to illnesses. While no direct cause has been identified, U.S. health authorities have said vitamin E acetate, an additive used in THC oil, may be behind the rash health problems.  A Health Canada spokesperson confirmed last month that vitamin E acetate is not allowed in Canadian cannabis vaping products.

Still, the timing couldn’t be worse for Canadian licenced producers as they roll out their Health Canada-approved vape products set to go on sale later this month.

Executives at Canopy Growth, Aurora Cannabis (ACB.TO)(ACB), HEXO (HEXO.TO)(HEXO) and Aphria (APHA.TO)(APHA) have each spoken out about the safety of their products versus black market alternatives. 

“There are strong regulations to ensure safety and proper checks and balances,” Canopy Growth president Rade Kovacevic told Yahoo Finance Canada. “Our strong view is that we have gone above and beyond the regulations.”

Canopy Growth's Tokyo Smoke vape products on display at an event in Toronto on Nov. 28, 2019. (Provided)
Canopy Growth's Tokyo Smoke vape products on display at an event in Toronto on Nov. 28, 2019. (Provided)

“What you are really seeing is people who are using vitamin E acetate, because it's used as a stabilizer in other edible products. They are in an unlicensed market in the U.S., where there are no regulations and no oversight. They are doing what they thought was good for food, and putting it into a vaporizer and inhaling it into their lungs, and learning the hard way that that's not the same thing as eating it,” Popplewell said.

“Storz & Bickel makes medical devices approved by Health Canada. They use them in hospitals. Yet the Storz & Bickel app, because it was deemed a vaporizer, was painted with the same brush,” he added. “I think common sense will prevail, and our commitment to technology will win out in the end.”

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