Vaping has been deemed hazardous for your health by public officials across America, but you wouldn't know it by scrolling through Instagram.
Instead, researchers discovered that Instagram posts that promote use of the devices outnumber anti-vaping content by a shocking ratio of 10 000 to one.
Vaping called an epidemic
Nearly one-third of US teens use e-cigarettes. In 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration launched a campaign to discourage vaping among youth, according to authors of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Communication.
"US public health officials have been calling vaping among youth an epidemic and have been putting a lot of effort into trying to stop this epidemic by introducing #TheRealCost anti-vaping campaign," said researcher Julia Vassey, from the University of California, Berkeley.
"But this stark imbalance in the volume of posts has caused the FDA message to be overwhelmed by marketing from the vaping brands," she said in a journal news release.
Vassey and her colleagues analysed nearly 246 000 Instagram posts from before and after the #TheRealCost campaign launch, and interviewed five vaping influencers and eight college-age social media users.
"We focused on Instagram because the vaping influencers we interviewed for this study identified Instagram as their most important social media marketing platform," Vassey said.
Direction for anti-vaping campaigns
"Based on the results, the FDA anti-vaping campaign is not very popular and we saw Instagram user comments disputing the FDA claims of damaging health effects from nicotine and calling the campaign propaganda," she said.
Vaping posts received nearly three times more "likes" after the launch of the FDA campaign launch, and there were six times as many vaping posts that had more than 100 likes.
The vaping influencers and social media users told the researchers that the FDA's anti-vaping campaign promoted scare tactics rather than offering guidance on how to quit vaping.
"We're hoping the findings will inform public health regulators about the most popular channels used by vaping influencers to promote vaping content among underage population in order to help counter e-cigarette marketing and slow vaping proliferation among youth," Vassey said.
"This study could also contribute to providing direction for future federal and local public health anti-vaping intervention campaigns," she said.
Image credit: iStock