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Social media's effect on e-cigarette trend studied

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Brandi Walker and Brandi Walker | The Daily Wildcat Brandi Walker / The Daily Wildcat Electronic cigarettes and vaperizors are have become more prevalent in recent years, especially among youths. Many local shops that sell e-cigarettes offer a wide variety of products and product accessories.

UA management information systems professor Daniel Zeng is partnering with Mayo Clinic behavior scientist Scott Leischow to co-investigate how social media use affects people’s choices regarding electronic cigarettes, with data being collected over a period of five years.

“We brought two areas of research that are very different together to try to understand a public health problem,” Leischow said. “Our goal is to make sure the public has good information for making their choices.”

Leischow said his background and focus area pertains to tobacco control and tobacco research, and Zeng is an international expert in the analysis of social media. The two said they have noticed a recent increase in the use of e-cigarettes or vaporizers, especially among youths.

UA students have been exposed to e-cigarette use, as there are several smoke or vape shops found within a few miles of campus.
“A few years ago, we were seeing people using products that looked like cigarettes,” Leischow said, “and now we’re seeing many … more people shifting to what are called tank systems.”

The owner of local smoke shop Simply Smokes, located on First Avenue, said that over the past few years, he has noticed that more of his customers have become interested in e-cigarettes and vaporizers.

This may be because purchasers can now have a more personalized experience with products that allow the user to adjust the flavor and amount of smoke. He added that e-cigarettes use nicotine and leave out many additives found in regular tobacco or traditional cigarettes.

The UA announced a new policy regarding tobacco and smoking effective as of Aug. 25, 2014. Smoking is prohibited on the UA campus in any form, according to the policy, including the use of smokeless tobacco and vaporizers or e-cigarettes. The policy is an effort to create a healthy environment for those at the UA.

According to project documents from Zeng, the “project aims to advance the understanding of reasons for e-cigarette use, e-cigarettes’ health effects and efficacy as a smoking reduction and cessation aid, as well as e-cigarette vendors’ marketing and promotional efforts through analyzing social media content and online social networking activities.”

Experimentation and continued e-cigarette use doubled among middle and high school students in the U.S. in 2011 and 2012, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey study.

“A Web-based social media informatics platform will be developed to provide near real-time e-cigarette data feeds and analysis capabilities,” the project documents state. “The proposed efforts could help the FDA[,] CTP and tobacco control researchers with their e-cigarette adoption and consumer behavioral analysis, and related regulatory work.”

Leischow said social media seems to be the primary location for people to find information about trying these kinds of products. E-cigarette users communicate via social media to find the best products at vape shops. Leischow added that it is important to be aware of possible bias when reading information posted by companies.

“The nature of this research is to begin digging into the social media, specifically about e-cigarettes,” Leischow said. “Then, creating a way to keep track of it, how to categorize it, how to understand it, so that we can use that to better understand how people are making decisions.”

Leischow said most research shows that the majority of people using e-cigarettes or vape systems are using them because they are trying to quit smoking regular cigarettes.

Smokers in Arizona spend around $1,527,427 in their lifetime on tobacco smoking and other smoking related costs, according to a WalletHub study titled “The Financial Cost of Smoking by State.”

“These products have not been tested,” Leischow said. “We don’t know whether it will help them quit smoking. There just isn’t enough evidence to suggest that. [Purchasers] don’t know for sure what they’re putting into their bodies. There is a risk there that they need to be aware of.”

These products have not been tested by any regulatory agency, Leischow said, and people who want to quit smoking should try products, medications or methods that have evidence to suggest they help people quit smoking.

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