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Wednesday, July 29 • 10:46 - 12:15
"#VapeLife: Understanding Electronic Cigarette Use and Promotion on Instagram"

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Authors:  Linnea Laestadius, Megan Meyer and Young Cho

Recent research has made it clear that people are sharing information about their tobacco use on social media (Bromberg, Augustson, & Backinger, 2012; Luo, Zheng, Zeng, & Leischow, 2014; Seidenberg, Rodgers, Rees, & Connolly, 2012). The growth of mobile applications for smart phones has further enabled the sharing of tobacco use opinions and experiences in real time. Since perceptions of peer substance use rates and norms play an important role in tobacco use patterns (Bertholet, et al, 2013), the self-disclosure of, and the exposure to, smoking on social media inherently poses a challenge to tobacco use control campaigns. The ability to interact over social media services may also foster communities built around substance use (Bromberg et al., 2012). Further complicating the social media landscape, corporations have also taken note of the rising popularity of social media services (Ciolli, 2007; Luo et al., 2014). 

We offer a descriptive study of the electronic cigarette (“e-cigarette”) content found on the visual mobile social media platform Instagram in order to highlight: 1) the public health challenge created by this content and 2) the opportunity this content provides for researchers to understand substance use behaviours. For the purposes of this work, e-cigarettes include cigalikes, ego vape-pens, and mod vape devices. We focus on these devices in particular due to their lack of government regulation, rapidly growing popularity, and the role the internet has played in this growth (Emery, Vera, Huang, & Szczypka, 2014). 

We conducted a qualitative content analysis to understand the types of user- and business-generated content related to e-cigarettes on Instagram. First, an overarching count of e-cigarette hashtags was performed on Instagram to determine growth in the volume of this content. Once popular hashtags were identified, “ecig” and the most popular affiliated hashtag “vape” were chosen for sampling. The 60 most recent posts with each hashtag posted on October 17, 2014 were captured for analysis. After excluding images that were removed or made private by January 2015, the remaining posts were coded in terms of user and post type, key themes, and community/identity related hashtags. 

Between March 12, 2014 and March 12, 2015, #ecig posts increased from 291,284 to 824,857, while #vape posts increased from 827,445 to 2,859,946. Initial analysis of our sample (n=85) indicated that content was dominated by small e-cigarette brands, vendors, and representatives (n=50). These businesses made strategic use of Instagram to promote their products. Among non-business users (n=33), posts frequently displayed e-cigarette devices and e-juice. Many posts related to technologically advanced vaping concepts (e.g. dripping, sub-ohming) which were previously undocumented in the public health literature. Business and personal users also frequently (n=69) made use of a number of community- and identity-themed hashtags related to e-cigarettes (e.g. #vapelife, #cloudchaser). Additionally, many users utilized hashtags to emphasize the status and significance of the e-cigarette devices themselves, with #VapePorn being particularly common. 

Future Work: 
Further analysis of the data is planned, with a focus on the implications of social media-based communities forming around e-cigarette use. 

Bertholet, N., Faouzi, M., Studer, J., Daeppen, J.-B., & Gmel, G. (2013). Perception of tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol use of others is associated with one’s own use. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 8(1), 15. 
Bromberg, J. E., Augustson, E. M., & Backinger, C. L. (2012). Portrayal of Smokeless Tobacco in YouTube Videos. Nicotine & Tobacco Research : Official Journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, 14(4), 455–462. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntr235 
Ciolli, A. (2007). Joe Camel meets YouTube: Cigarette advertising regulations and user-generated marketing. U. Tol. L. Rev., 39, 121. 
Emery, S. L., Vera, L., Huang, J., & Szczypka, G. (2014). Wanna know about vaping? Patterns of message exposure, seeking and sharing information about e-cigarettes across media platforms. Tobacco Control, 23 Suppl 3, iii17–25. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-051648 
Luo, C., Zheng, X., Zeng, D., & Leischow, S. (2014). Portrayal of electronic cigarettes on YouTube. BMC Public Health, 14(1), 1028. doi:10.1136/bmj.e8412 
Seidenberg, A. B., Rodgers, E. J., Rees, V. W., & Connolly, G. N. (2012). Youth access, creation, and content of smokeless tobacco (“dip”) videos in social media. The Journal of Adolescent Health : Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 50(4), 334–338. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.09.003 

avatar for Linnea Laestadius

Linnea Laestadius

Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
avatar for Megan Meyer

Megan Meyer

Research Assistant/PhD Student, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
PhD student in public health with interest in communications, global health, social media, and communities.

Wednesday July 29, 2015 10:46 - 12:15 EDT
(7th Floor) Room TRS1-129 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

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