While advertising for conventional cigarettes has long been prohibited in the US, e-cigarettes are being routinely advertised in traditional and social media including Twitter, claims a new study.
Researchers from the University of Illinois said e-cigarettes are commonly advertised on Twitter and the tweets often link to commercial websites promoting e-cigarette use.
“There is this whole wild west of social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – and the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has no way to track what is happening in those platforms,” said lead study author Jidong Huang from the University of Illinois.
To reach this conclusion, researchers collected tweets and metadata related to e-cigarettes during a two-month period in 2012. Using novel statistical methodology and carefully chosen keywords, they captured more than 70,000 tweets related to e-cigarettes.
Among the 70,000 tweets, nearly 90 percent were commercial tweets and only 10 percent were individual consumer opinions. As many as 94 percent of the commercial tweets included a website link.
“If kids or youth search for ‘vaping pen’ or ‘e-cig’ on Twitter, they will get links to commercial sites where they can purchase these items,” Huang stressed.
Unlike Facebook and some other platforms where one can set privacy controls, all information on Twitter is accessible to anyone.
“We know very little about what these products are made of and what kind of chemicals are in the e-juice,” Huang emphasised.
The findings, published in the journal Tobacco Control, have implications for future FDA regulations on the marketing of e-cigarettes and related products.