As the Food and Drug Administration begins to issue rulings on the marketing and sale of e-cigarette products, health researchers are seeking more information on what influence, if any, social media use might have on vaping, especially among college students.
In a first-of-its-kind study, Associate Professor Hong Xue and Professors Alison Cuellar and Lawrence Cheskin in George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services, and colleagues examined associations between the amount of time spent on specific social media sites and the use of both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes.
While most of the social media platforms reviewed in the study showed no significant association with vaping, Xue and his colleagues did find that college-age e-cigarette users who spent more time on Snapchat did have a higher prevalence of lifetime e-cigarette use as well as an increased frequency of e-cigarette use in the past 30 days.
College-age e-cigarette users who are occasional or regular vapers spend an average of just over two hours a day on Snapchat, according to the study. Non-users, on the other hand, spend less than an hour each day on the app. The study also found that each extra hour on Snapchat was associated with a 4.61 percent increase in likelihood of lifetime e-cigarette use.
“Our findings provide evidence of the important role that social media may play in promoting engagement in risky health behaviors for young adults, such as e-cigarette use,” says Xue. “Scientific evidence is urgently needed to inform interventions and policies that can reverse the trend.”
While traditional tobacco use among young people has declined over the years, estimates from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that more than one in four high school students were current e-cigarette users. Those students, now in college, are also heavy social media users. A 2018 Pew Research Center study showed that 75 percent of young adults had used Instagram and 73 percent used Snapchat, with more than three-fourths of users aged 18 to 29 reporting that they use the apps daily.
The study also examined whether social media might influence traditional cigarette use. The research team did not find an association between cigarette smoking and any of the major platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.
The research team used data from the Mason: Health Starts Here cohort study for their observational study. The study included 298 first-year college students at a large state university. In addition to Cuellar, Cheskin, and Xue, the research team included Shuo-Yu Lin, Xiaolu Cheng, Matthew Rossheim, and Dustin Gress.
Michelle Thompson/George Mason University