Using innovative approaches and machine learning methods to characterize cigar and cigarillo promotion on social media and examine its effects on tobacco and marijuana use among youth and young adults.
Although the prevalence of cigarette smoking in the United States has declined considerably over the past five decades, the use of other tobacco products, including little cigars and cigarillos (LCCs) has increased or remained unchanged. Moreover, tobacco companies and vendors actively use social media platforms to promote tobacco products, for instance, through celebrity or “influencer” marketing. These promotional messages are currently under-regulated, often contain misinformation, target youth and vulnerable populations, and feature branded merchandise. This five-year study (2020-2025), with funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, aims to fill an existing gap in research by assessing the intended and unintended consequences of potential exposure of youth and young adults to LCC-related social media content.
The specific aims of this study are as follows:
- To examine the impact of exposure to little cigar and cigarillo social media content on LCC use, harm perceptions, perceived prevalence of use, initiation, and intentions to use LCCs.
- To assess the unintended consequences of exposure to LCC-related social media content, examining its impact on attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to other combustible products such as cigarettes and hookah, as well as its impact on marijuana use and initiation.
- To study how state and local tobacco control policies and policies that restrict LCC and marijuana use modify the direct effects and unintended impact of potential exposure to LCC-related social media content.
To examine potential causal links, we leverage Instagram and Twitter data to measure the message quantity scaled by community population and describe the character of messages that reflect the marketing strategies related to LCCs (e.g., targeting new users and youth). We also catalogue Nielsen commercial retail store scanner data from 52 US markets for food, drug and convenience stores, which contain detailed information on LCC retail prices, flavors, brands, and sales. Individual-level behavioral data is obtained from a nationally representative online survey about tobacco use in the Truth Initiative’s Truth Longitudinal Cohort (TLC).
By analyzing the associations between LCC use and the volume of Instagram and Twitter messages across geo-locations and over time, this study will make a significant contribution to our understanding of the behavioral implications of exposure to social tobacco messages. Building on previous research from the Social Data Collaboratory (SDC) and the Truth Initiative’s collaboration, we anticipate the findings from this project will build a scientific and methodological base for surveillance and potential regulation of commercial advertising messages on social media platforms.