The slant taken by the research team is evident from their description of the background to their study: “Electronic cigarettes have been heavily marketed across Twitter feeds, offering discounts, ‘kid-friendly’ flavours, algorithmically generated false testimonials, and free samples.”
Artificial intelligence powered the machines that analysed approximately 850,000 twitter posts, generating data for statistical analysis. The tweets were classified as “Automated” or “Organic”, the keyword detection algorithm pulled out keywords that only humans would use. What they discovered was that the volume of tweets originating from individuals has fallen dramatically.
Another driver behind the study is to be found in the report: “The CDC reports that ‘the number of never-smoking youth increased three-fold from approximately 79,000 in 2011 to 263,000 in 2013’. During this time-period there has also been a substantial (256%) increase in youth exposure to electronic cigarette television marketing campaigns.”
Implied bias aside, it may well be indicative of a shift in vaper activity online. The team said: “This decrease in the average happiness score is due to a relative increase in the negative words ‘ban’, ‘tobacco’, ‘doesn’t’, ‘drug’, ‘against’, ‘poison’, ‘tax’ [and] a relative decrease in the positive words ‘haha’, ‘good’, ‘cool’. Notably, there is also relatively less usage of the words ‘quit’, ‘addicted’, and an increase in ‘health’, ‘kids’, ‘juice’.”
They claim to have discovered that 80% of vape-related content comes from large companies using the platform for commercial purposes, automatically generating tweets. The researchers add: “A third of this offered discounts or free samples, with a large amount referencing e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation product. Unlike the organically generated material, the automatic content was so positive in outlook and sentiment it skewed the overall results before being removed. Brands such as V2, Apollo and Blu featured heavily in the automated marketing.”
The team does acknowledge that there is a very positive aspect to vaping helping people quit smoking: “We take care not to downplay the well recognized health benefits from smoking cessation including: decreased risk of coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, decreased incidence of respiratory symptoms such as cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, decreased incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and decreased risk of infertility in women of childbearing age.”
The benefits, as far as they are concerned are outweighed by a perceived danger: “The greatest concern of promotional e-cigarette marketing on Twitter is the risk of enticing younger generations who otherwise may never have commenced consuming nicotine.”