Nav: Home

Less than 1 percent of millions of Google e-cigarette searches focused on quitting smoking

March 31, 2016

Ann Arbor, MI, March 31, 2016 - Electronic cigarettes have significantly increased in popularity over the past decade, leaving the public health community to play catch up in terms of trying to understand the motivations and habits of e-cigarette users. A study of Google search trends led by researchers from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and San Diego State University as part of the Internet Tobacco Vendors Study shows a significant jump in the popularity of the words "vape" and "vaping," and a decline in searches related to vaping health and smoking cessation, according to a new report published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"The e-cigarette industry, the media, and the vaping community have promoted the notion that e-cigarettes are an effective device for quitting smoking, yet what we're seeing is that there are very few people searching for information about that," said the study's senior author Rebecca S. Williams, MHS, PhD, researcher at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. "They are more commonly searching for terms like 'buy,' shop,' or 'sale.'"

In an attempt to better understand the rapidly changing landscape surrounding e-cigarette use, investigators analyzed Google searches related to electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) from 2009 to 2014. The data revealed that the number of ENDS-related searches is rapidly increasing with 8,498,000 searches in 2014 alone, up from only 1,545,000 in 2010. Vaping and vaping-centric terms are also starting to overtake e-cigarette as the popular way to describe ENDS. While a growing number of searches pertained to purchasing, less than one percent of searches in 2013 and 2014 related to quitting smoking a traditional combustible cigarette. Only three percent of all ENDS searches in 2013 and two percent in 2014 included terms searching for health information (e.g., "e-cigarette risks" or "is vaping healthy").

"ENDS are the first tobacco product born in the online age," explained investigator John W. Ayers, PhD, MA, Professor, San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health. "Examining the content of searches can reveal the searcher's thoughts and continued analysis of Google search trends may fill some knowledge gaps and outline agendas for follow-up survey-based surveillance."

Researchers broke the data down by type of search vocabulary used and geographic location. They also looked for strings of search terms that would provide insights into the searcher's agenda, like "buy e-cigs" might infer that the person planned on buying an e-cigarette.

Although at the beginning of the study period in 2009, ENDS searches were predominantly concentrated in states like Florida, Nevada, and Texas, by the end of the study in 2014, searches were more uniformly spread across the country; however, ENDS searches were significantly more common in Midwestern and Western states than on the Eastern seaboard. Also, the research team found that costal states were much more likely to refer to vaping terms during their searches as opposed to e-cigarette terms. For example, investigators found that in California, 72 percent of all ENDS searches included vaping terms.

Analyzing Google searches provides unique insights into the thoughts of ENDS users because all of the data is organic and only influenced by the searchers' wants and their questions surrounding vaping, which is why a decline in the number of searches related to ENDS as a cessation option or queries about the safety of vaping is particularly noteworthy. "Individuals in the U.S. often endorse ENDS as smoking-cessation aids, and some surveys suggest that many believe using ENDS will help them quit combustible cigarettes. However, only a small and declining percentage of Google searchers for ENDS included terms indicative of cessation," said Dr. Williams. "The context of this discrepancy is critical. When primed by survey questions, individuals appear to link ENDS with cessation, but in the privacy of their own home (when no investigator is providing options), it appears that searches for ENDS and cessation are infrequent."

While researchers are still trying to fully explore and understand vaping trends, one thing is certain: big data like the data for this study culled from Google searches may hold an important key to formulating public health policy going forward. "Tobacco control has historically lagged behind online tobacco markets, leaving gaps in surveillance," concluded Dr. Williams. "Nowhere is this clearer than with the rise of ENDS. ENDS have become popular during a period without strong surveillance and a slowed public health reaction. Innovative methods like search query surveillance can improve the timeliness of tobacco control surveillance, especially around ENDS."
-end-


Elsevier Health Sciences

Related Smoking Articles:

A case where smoking helped
A mutation in the hemoglobin of a young woman in Germany was found to cause her mild anemia.
No safe level of smoking
People who consistently smoked an average of less than one cigarette per day over their lifetime had a 64 percent higher risk of earlier death than people who never smoked.
Nearly half of women who stop smoking during pregnancy go back to smoking soon after baby is born
A major new review published today by the scientific journal Addiction reveals that in studies testing the effectiveness of stop-smoking support for pregnant women, nearly half (43 percent) of the women who managed to stay off cigarettes during the pregnancy went back to smoking within six months of the birth.
If you want to quit smoking, do it now
Smokers who try to cut down the amount they smoke before stopping are less likely to quit than those who choose to quit all in one go, Oxford University researchers have found.
Cochrane news: Have national smoking bans worked in reducing harms in passive smoking?
The most robust evidence yet, published today in the Cochrane Library, suggests that national smoking legislation does reduce the harms of passive smoking, and particularly risks from heart disease.
Advocating for raising the smoking age to 21
Henry Ford Hospital pulmonologist Daniel Ouellette, M.D., who during his 31-year career in medicine has seen the harmful effects of smoking on his patients, advocates for raising the smoking age to 21.
Stress main cause of smoking after childbirth
Mothers who quit smoking in pregnancy are more likely to light up again after their baby is born if they feel stressed.
As smoking declines, more are likely to quit
Smokeless tobacco and, more recently, e-cigarettes have been promoted as a harm reduction strategy for smokers who are 'unable or unwilling to quit.' The strategy, embraced by both industry and some public health advocates, is based on the assumption that as smoking declines overall, only those who cannot quit will remain.
Smoking around your toddler could be just as bad as smoking while pregnant
Children whose parents smoked when they were toddlers are likely to have a wider waist and a higher BMI by time they reach ten years of age, reveal researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte Justine Research Centre.
Smoking and angioplasty: Not a good combination
Quitting smoking when you have angioplasty is associated with better quality of life and less chest pain.

Related Smoking Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".