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Social Media’s Influence on Flavored Tobacco Use

Woman sits in a naturally lit living room while she texts on her smart phone and holds an electronic cigarette.
Investigation of youth-targeted flavored tobacco promotion on social media to inform regulatory decisions
  • Client
    National Institute on Drug Abuse; Food & Drug Administration
  • Dates
    May 2021 - April 2024

Problem

Youth prefer flavored tobacco products, which are promoted heavily on social media.

The popularity of flavored tobacco products, especially among youth, threatens to undo the public health progress made against tobacco use. While sales of flavored cigarette products are restricted (with the exception of menthol cigarettes), other established and emerging tobacco products are available in a wide variety of flavors, including candy and fruit. These flavors can mask the harsh tobacco taste and encourage uptake and continued use of tobacco. Informing regulatory strategies and addressing policy loopholes required a comprehensive investigation into the promotion of flavored products and their effects on youth.

Solution

NORC used social data analytics to understand the rise of flavored tobacco marketing on social media.

Leveraging diverse datasets and innovative analytical methods, this study examined the exposure effects through three key objectives:

  • Identifying and characterizing regulatable social media content related to FTPs
  • Assessing the influence of commercial and influencer content on product sales and youth awareness
  • Evaluating how FTP regulatory policies modify this impact

Our goal was to inform regulatory science, contribute to health communication theory, and guide future efforts in tobacco control, particularly concerning flavored tobacco products and social media marketing.

Result

We determined a variety of consequences of flavored product promotion, the cigarette flavor ban, and industry tactics on social media.

Effects of Exposure to FTP Product Promotion on Social Media: Our analyses of survey data revealed that exposure to social media marketing content predicts flavored tobacco product initiation among youth. 

E-cigarette Flavor Ban Effects: Prefilled pod sales plateaued post-flavor ban, with disposable e-cigarettes experiencing a rapid surge. The ban led to a shift in flavor preferences, favoring menthol in prefilled pods and fruit in disposables, but overall e-cigarette sales showed no significant decline.

Industry Tactics on Social Media: Analysis of Instagram posts revealed widespread efforts by manufacturers and vendors to promote flavored e-cigarettes, exploiting various strategies like off-brand substitutes, global promotion, and stockpiling encouragement. Posts also suggested alternative product formats and evasive measures to bypass flavor restrictions.

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