By Georgia Parsonson
Research conducted by the University of Queensland (UQ) has found that TikTok portrays a positive attitude towards vaping and e-cigarette usage, with negative repercussions for young people.
PhD student Tianze Sun, of UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research, said the 11 members of the research team examined TikTok videos to determine how vaping and e-cigarette videos were portrayed.
“Of the 808 videos in our sample, we found that positive portrayals of e-cigarette use were viewed over 1.1 billion times, accounting for 63% of the total sample,” Miss Sun said.
“Videos negatively depicting vaping and e-cigarettes only counted for 13% of the total sample, while 27% portrayed vaping and e-cigarettes neutrally.
“Considering accessibility of these videos and previous studies showing exposure to vaping-related content is associated with increased likelihood of future e-cigarette use, consideration of age restrictions on social media platforms is recommended.”
Dr Gary Chan, also of UQ’s national Centre for Youth Substance Use Research, said videos concerning vaping and e-cigarettes rarely referenced the accompanying repercussions on a person’s health.
“More than half the videos we studied fell under the thematic category of ‘comedy and joke’,” Dr Chan said.
“The next most common themes were ‘lifestyle and acceptability’ and ‘marketing’.
“Videos that showed vaping tricks had a significantly higher number of views at 487 million, compared to videos about nicotine and addiction at only 195 million.
“Adolescents are susceptible to peer influence, increasingly via social media, and this is a concern when emerging evidence suggests vaping has detrimental effects on the developing brain, lungs, and heart.”
When advertising and sales for e-cigarettes were not tightly regulated following their initial entry into the US consumer market, youth vaping rates increased dramatically.
Between 2017 and 2020, the rate of current e-cigarette use (using at least once in the last 30 days) among high school students rose from 11.7 to 19.6%. On average, TikTok users watch more than 200 videos a day.
“Effective age restrictions would likely reduce adolescent exposure to the positive portrayal of vaping across social media platforms,” Dr Chan said.
The published study may be found in Tobacco Control: DOI: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2021-056619).