Characterizing Support and Opposition for E-cigarette Use Prevention Campaigns on Twitter

One of the first research efforts to employ social media data as a surveillance tool to quantify and characterize social media impact of early e-cigarette use prevention campaigns.

Although smoking rates in the U.S. have decreased, the recent declines in cigarette sales are offset by sharp increases in the consumption of other tobacco products, including vaping products or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). One of the reasons behind the rapid increase in youth and young adult’s e-cigarette use is the extensive and effective marketing of these products. These products are increasingly aggressively marketed on digital and social media, which are disproportionately popular among this hard-to-reach at-risk age group. Therefore, measuring the social media engagement with the e-cigarette use prevention campaigns would represent an important advancement to prevention science and lend evidential support for tobacco regulatory policy. With funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, this two-year-long study (2020-2022) aims to inform our understanding of the amount, content, sources, and engagement of Twitter messages related to recent prevention campaigns discouraging e-cigarette use.

Social media are increasingly used for disseminating e-cigarette use prevention public health messages; however, very limited research has systematically examined the amount, themes, and sources of support and opposition to these campaigns. This project will fill this gap by identifying reach, engagement, comparative themes of supportive and oppositional content, and major strategies countering these interventions on Twitter. These insights will then be used to develop concepts and technologies to help develop effective social media campaigns preventing e-cigarette use among youth and young adults. The specific aims of the project are:

  1. Identify and quantify Twitter messages related to e-cigarette use prevention campaigns over time and assess reach and engagement by campaign (replies, retweet, and comment).
  2. Characterize e-cigarette use prevention campaign-related content on Twitter by a. sources (public health organizations, advocacy, commercial, organic users); b. valence (support, opposition); c. themes (misinformation, health claims, flavors, policy).

The NORC team will use Twitter data to measure the quantity and describe the accuracy, tone, themes, and reach patterns of messages that reflect e-cigarette use prevention campaign perceptions and the strategies for countering the health campaigns by the ENDS industry and its allies. The overarching methodological approach is grounded by a mixed methods perspective. It involves a deep contextual understanding of the subject matter and sophisticated statistical and computational techniques to manage and analyze the large volume of social media data.

This project represents one of the first efforts to employ social media data as a surveillance tool to quantify and characterize social media impact of the e-cigarette use prevention campaigns. Importantly, these findings will be directly translatable to other communication/behavioral research studying the health implications of social media.

Project Director

Miao Fang
Research Scientist


Miao Fang
Research Scientist

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