“Keep calm, it’s just vapour”: A content analysis of vaping related tweets from Australia
The sale of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) containing nicotine is prohibited in all Australian states and territories, yet the increased availability and convenience of the internet enables promotion and exposure across countries. A central feature of many universal social media platforms is the sharing of images. As a result of the increased pervasiveness of social media, the role of media, marketing and peer influence in the uptake of smoking has become particularly salient as social media can be a powerful tool used to convey social norms and to influence risk behaviors. At present, there is no evidence of how e-cigarettes and vaping are being promoted on social media in Australia.
This study aimed to investigate how e-cigarettes are being portrayed and promoted on Twitter using a content analysis approach of posts containing an image.
In total 1,303 tweets and accompanying images from 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 were analyzed, collected through TrISMA (Tracking Infrastructure for Social Media Analysis), a contemporary technical and organizational infrastructure for the tracking of public communication by Australian users of social media, via a list of 15 popular e-cigarette related terms.
Despite Australia’s cautious approach toward e-cigarettes and the limited evidence supporting them as an efficacious smoking cessation aid, it is evident that there is a concerted effort from some Twitter users to promote these devices as a health conducive (91/1303, 6.98%), smoking cessation product (266/1303, 20.41%). Further, Twitter is being used in an attempt to circumvent Australian regulation and advocate for a more liberal approach towards personal vaporizers (90/1303, 6.91%). A sizeable proportion of posts were also dedicated to selling or promoting vape products (347/1303, 26.63%), and 19.95% (260/1303) were found to be business listings. These posts used methods to try and expand their clientele further than their immediate followers by touting competitions and giveaways, in which those wanting to enter had to usually perform a sequence of steps such as liking, tagging and reposting, that would ultimately expose the post among the consumers network to those not necessarily interested in vaping.
The borderless nature of social media presents a clear challenge for enforcing Article 13 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which requires all ratifying nations to implement a ban on tobacco, advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Countering the advertising and promotion of these products will require cross-border cooperation with other WHO FCTC parties. Further research aimed at developing strategies to counter the advertising and promotion of e-cigarettes is therefore warranted.
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