Nav: Home

The shifting rationales for vaping

March 01, 2017

A new study harnesses social media data to explore--in their own words--the reasons people use e-cigarettes and why they started vaping in the first place. Nearly half of people say they began vaping in an effort to quit smoking cigarettes, while other reasons included their taste, the ability to use them indoors and their "cool factor."

The work, led by San Diego State University researcher and public health surveillance expert John W. Ayers and published today in the journal PLOS ONE, gets around the inherent limitations and inaccuracies of survey responses by sourcing data directly from people's own comments on social media.

"Just look to surveys from the recent presidential election or Brexit as examples of surveys' weakening ability to gauge public sentiment, attitudes or behaviors," Ayers said. "But what if we could listen in to what people are naturally saying about e-cigarettes to their friends rather than a surveyor?"

To do just that, Ayers and colleagues mined Twitter data from more than 3 million public tweets about e-cigarettes between 2012 and 2015 to understand vaping's surge in popularity over that time.

All English-language public tweets that included several e-cigarette terms (such as "e-cigarette" and "vape," among dozens of others) were captured from the Twitter data stream over that time period. After excluding spam, advertisements, and retweets, posts from real Twitter users indicating their rationale for vaping were retained and classified.

During 2012, quitting "combustibles"--cigarettes and other smoking tobacco products--was the most commonly cited reason for using e-cigarettes, mentioned in nearly half (43 percent) of all rationale-related tweets. Coming in second place was social image (21 percent), followed by ability to use indoors (14 percent), available flavors (14 percent), perceived safety (9 percent), cost (3 percent) and agreeable odor (2 percent).

By 2015, though, the Tweeted reasons for using e-cigarettes had shifted. Both "quitting combustibles" and "ability to use indoors" significantly decreased in mentions.

At the same time, social image became the most mentioned rationale in 2015, cited in 37 percent of the collected tweets. "The reasons people vape shifted away from cessation and toward social image during the time that e-cigarettes evolved from a cessation device to a freestanding tobacco product attracting smokers and nonsmokers alike," said Jon-Patrick Allem, one of the study's coauthor and fellow at the University of Southern California's Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science. "By utilizing Twitter, we can make public health more data-driven and understand vapers or those thinking of vaping," he added.

Misinformation appears to drive some vapers' rationales for using e-cigarettes, the authors noted.

"Some of the reasons people vape appear to be dubious," said Eric Leas, another coauthor and a graduate student in the SDSU-UCSD Public Health Joint Doctoral Program. "For example, vaping may be no less expensive than smoking combustibles, despite their naming that as a reason for vaping. Understanding how the public is potentially misinformed, rather than guessing, is a tremendous benefit for public health surveillance and practice."

Monitoring social media data is a strategy that should be a standard practice in public health, the researchers argue.

"Given the current prevalence of vaping, it would require more than 50,000 screening interviews and cost millions of dollars to have a single snapshot comparable to our study," said Mark Dredze, study coauthor and computer scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

Ayers added that by thinking of Twitter and other social media streams as "a massive, passive focus group" allows for public health researchers to be better connected to the people they serve. "Without any priming or direct costs associated with data collection, public health can use social media surveillance to understand why people vape, yielding actionable intelligence for decision making on how to discourage vaping," he said. "Given that reasons for vaping can and do change, as we saw in our study, staying on top of these changes can potentially improve public health advocacy."
-end-
The study was funded in collaboration with the University of Southern California's Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science by the National Cancer Institute and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not represent the official views of the funders. The funders had no role in the design, conduct, or interpretation of the study nor the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript. Additional collaborators on this study included Tess Cruz and Jennifer Unger of the University of Southern California; Benjamin Althouse of the Institute for Disease Modeling and Santa Fe Institute; and Adrian Benton of Johns Hopkins University.

San Diego State University

Related Public Health Articles:

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.
BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.
The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.
Bloomberg American Health Initiative releases special public health reports supplement
With US life expectancy now on the decline for two consecutive years, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative is releasing a supplement to Public Health Reports, the scholarly journal of the US Surgeon General.
Data does the heavy lifting: Encouraging new public health approaches to promote the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE)
According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, almost 75 percent of US adults do not comply with public health guidelines recommending two or more muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE) sessions a week, with nearly 60 percent of the population doing no MSE at all.
The Lancet Public Health: Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health
Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fats from plant sources associated with lower risk of mortality compared to those that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fat from animal sources.
Mass. public safety, public health agencies collaborate to address the opioid epidemic
A new study shows that public health and public safety agencies established local, collaborative programs in Massachusetts to connect overdose survivors and their personal networks with addiction treatment, harm reduction, and other community support services following a non-fatal overdose.
More Public Health News and Public Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.