Assessing the Effects of Smokeless Tobacco Influencer Marketing in the Rapidly Changing Media Environment

Innovative approaches and machine learning methods to characterize smokeless tobacco promotion on social media and understand its effects on product-use among youth and young adults.

In the United States, widespread regulatory imbalances remain in the treatment of cigarettes and non-cigarette tobacco products. Moreover, tobacco promotion on digital media remains unregulated despite longstanding broadcast and outdoor advertisement restrictions. These imbalances may explain persistent disparities in use and marketing exposure among U.S. population subgroups. This three-year study (2019-2022), funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute and the Federal Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, aims to fill a gap in the current research and establish a link between smokeless tobacco message exposure on social media and related product attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors among youth and young adults.

The specific aims of this study are as follows:

  1. To identify, quantify and characterize social media messages related to smokeless tobacco by source (i.e., organic, commercial/affiliated), and major themes (i.e., promotional strategies by state of addiction, youth targeting, health claims, flavored promotion).
  2. To assess the impact of exposure to potentially relatable social media messages about smokeless tobacco on youth and young adult smokeless tobacco product use, attitudes towards the products, harm perceptions, perceived prevalence of use, and intentions to use.
  3. To study the extent to which tobacco control policies moderate the relationship between exposures to smokeless tobacco related social media content and smokeless tobacco use to inform future FDA regulatory and counter-marketing actions.

This study leverages two unique data sets, which include social data from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to reflect what messages youth and young adults potentially see and engage with, as well as survey data on tobacco use from the Truth Initiative’s Truth Longitudinal Cohort (TLC).

By examining the associations between the amount of geo-located social media messages (scaled by community population) and smokeless tobacco use across regions and over time, this study makes a significant contribution to our understanding of behavioral implications of exposure to social tobacco messages. We also anticipate that the results of this project will build a scientific and methodological base for surveillance and potential regulation of commercial advertising messages on social media platforms.


Shyanika Rose, PhD
Asssistant Professor, University of Kentucky

Megan Diaz, PhD
Research Manager, Truth Initiative Foundation – Schroeder Institute

Barbra Schillo, PhD
Vice President, Truth Initiative Foundation – Schroeder Institute

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