“Social media has emerged as a popular forum for e-cigarette users (vapers) and prospective users to learn about and share their experiences with nicotine and vaping devices, for businesses to promote their products, and for e-cigarette advocates to debate regulatory regimes,” write the team led by Curtin University’s Kahlia McCausland.
However, they say, users may be “inadvertently exposed” to misinformation and disinformation. What they fail to recognise is that the misdirection appears to come exclusively from hysterical research produced with the aim of satisfying the sponsors or looking to obtain further resources from cash-rich billionaire-funded organisations.
The thing that concerns them most is the role played by the people who generate and disseminate pro-vaping messages on Twitter and, “the role of e-cigarette advocates in this promotion”.
Australia is currently making it even more difficult for smokers to access tobacco harm reduction products such as vaping. Recently, Planet of the Vapes explained that while cigarettes remain available to buy over the counter, Australians looking to switch will have to:
- Book a GP appointment
- Visit a GP to fill in an online form seeking approval from the TGA for Special Access Scheme B
- Wait for the GP to send form off
- Wait for approval from the TGA
- Book another GP appointment
- Visit the GP for a second time to obtain the approved form
- Take the form to a pharmacy
- Have the pharmacy place an order for nicotine from a wholesaler
- Make a second visit to the pharmacy to collect the nicotine
The research team conducted a trawl of the social media site using fifteen keyword:
- ecig (includes ecigarette/s)
- e-cig (includes e-cigarette/s)
- electroniccig (includes electroniccigarette/s)
- electronic cigarette (includes electronic cigarettes)
- vape (includes vaper and vapes)
What is striking is the limited number of posts they looked at: “In total, 4432 tweets were analysed. There were 570 (12.86%) tweets in 2012, 1196 (26.99%) in 2014, 1377 (31.07%) in 2016, and 1289 (29.08%) in 2018.” From that, a quarter were retweets and not original posts and a half of them were adverts.
“The vast majority of tweets (3754/4432, 84.70%) reflected positive perceptions toward e-cigarettes and related products or its users.”
The team hold a slightly odd opinion of what constitutes vape advocacy too. Their paper cites this one as coming from an e-cigarette advocate: “Shout out to @VapoureyesNZ you guys always look after me with my regular order of #alpinecloudco #Kosciuszko & your #heisenberg (which honestly is the best I've tried) #loyalcustomer dhl delivery takes 3days & boom my order is here!! #vapefam #vapergirl #vapoureyesnz THANKYOU”
They claim advocates are “inclined to promote and publicise products” rather than the close online advocacy community which shares and critiques research papers and press releases.
In addition, they continue, advocates “challenged other Twitter users expressing antivaping views”. The example they use is a response to anti-vape troll Simon Chapman [link], which may explain the direction of most of this work.
They go on to reference Chapman’s whine about being bullied online: “Some Australian public health academics, who do not support the use of e-cigarettes until they are proven to be a safe and efficacious smoking cessation aid, have documented their relentless struggles with provaping advocates on Twitter.” [link]
They conclude by accusing harm reduction advocates of using an “absence of balanced evidence-based dialogue” and “personal opinion” to “dominate the Twitter landscape”, which highlights the paucity of tweets they analysed. Advocacy holds evidence and truth as a fundamental principle, and it is hard to find those who engage on Twitter not using referenced peer-reviewed sources.
Unlike Simon Chapman, vape advocates engage and want evidenced facts, whether they agree with what they want to hear or not. Nobody is taking things on face value just because the messenger used to work in that area and this seems to be unsettling to Australia’s public health apparatus.