The Messages Presented in Electronic Cigarette-Related Social Media Promotions and Discussion: Scoping Review.
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BACKGROUND: There has been a rapid rise in the popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) over the last decade, with growth predicted to continue. The uptake of these devices has escalated despite inconclusive evidence of their efficacy as a smoking cessation device and unknown long-term health consequences. As smoking rates continue to drop or plateau in many well-developed countries, transnational tobacco companies have transitioned into the vaping industry and are now using social media to promote their products. Evidence indicates e-cigarettes are being marketed on social media as a harm reduction alternative, with retailers and manufacturers utilizing marketing techniques historically used by the tobacco industry. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to identify and describe the messages presented in e-cigarette-related social media (Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest) promotions and discussions and identify future directions for research, surveillance, and regulation. METHODS: Data sources included MEDLINE, Scopus, ProQuest, Informit, the Journal of Medical Internet Research, and Google Scholar. Included studies were published in English between 2007 and 2017, analyzed content captured from e-cigarette-related social media promotions or discussions, and reported results for e-cigarettes separately from other forms of tobacco and nicotine delivery. Database search ceased in October 2017. Initial searches identified 536 studies. Two reviewers screened studies by title and abstract. One reviewer examined 71 full-text articles to determine eligibility and identified 25 studies for inclusion. This process was undertaken with the assistance of the Web-based screening and data extraction tool-Covidence. The review was registered with the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) Systematic Reviews database and followed the methodology for JBI Scoping Reviews. RESULTS: Several key messages are being used to promote e-cigarettes including as a safer alternative to cigarettes, efficacy as a smoking cessation aid, and for use where smoking is prohibited. Other major marketing efforts aimed at capturing a larger market involve promotion of innovative flavoring and highlighting the public performance of vaping. Discussion and promotion of these devices appear to be predominantly occurring among the general public and those with vested interests such as retailers and manufacturers. There is a noticeable silence from the public health and government sector in these discussions on social media. CONCLUSIONS: The social media landscape is dominated by pro-vaping messages disseminated by the vaping industry and vaping proponents. The uncertainty surrounding e-cigarette regulation expressed within the public health field appears not to be reflected in ongoing social media dialogues and highlights the need for public health professionals to interact with the public to actively influence social media conversations and create a more balanced discussion. With the vaping industry changing so rapidly, real-time monitoring and surveillance of how these devices are discussed, promoted, and used on social media is necessary in conjunction with evidence published in academic journals.
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