JMIR Public Health and Surveillance (Nov 2020)

Electronic Cigarette–Related Contents on Instagram: Observational Study and Exploratory Analysis

  • Gao, Yankun,
  • Xie, Zidian,
  • Sun, Li,
  • Xu, Chenliang,
  • Li, Dongmei

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 6, no. 4
p. e21963


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BackgroundInstagram is a popular social networking platform for users to upload pictures sharing their experiences. Instagram has been widely used by vaping companies and stores to promote electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), as well as by public health entities to communicate the risks of e-cigarette use (vaping) to the public. ObjectiveWe aimed to characterize current vaping-related content on Instagram through descriptive analyses. MethodsFrom Instagram, 42,951 posts were collected using vaping-related hashtags in November 2019. The posts were grouped as (1) pro-vaping, (2) vaping warning, (3) neutral to vaping, and (4) not related to vaping based on the attitudes to vaping expressed within the posts. From these Instagram posts and the corresponding 18,786 unique Instagram user accounts, 200 pro-vaping and 200 vaping-warning posts as well as 200 pro-vaping and 200 vaping-warning user accounts were randomly selected for hand coding. Furthermore, follower counts and media counts of the Instagram user accounts as well as the “like” counts and hashtags of the posts were compared between pro-vaping and vaping-warning groups. ResultsThere were more posts in the pro-vaping group (41,412 posts) than there were in the vaping-warning group (1539 posts). The majority of pro-vaping images were product display images (163/200, 81.5%), and the most popular image type in vaping-warning posts was educational (95/200, 47.5%). The highest proportion of pro-vaping user account type was vaping store (110/189, 58.1%), and the store account type had the highest mean number of posts (10.33 posts/account). The top 3 vaping-warning user account types were personal (79/155, 51%), vaping-warning community (37/155, 23.9%), and community (35/155, 22.6%), of which the vaping-warning community had the highest mean number of posts (3.68 posts/account). Pro-vaping user accounts had more followers (median 850) and media (median 232) than vaping-warning user accounts had (follower count: median 191; media count: 92). Pro-vaping posts had more “likes” (median 22) and hashtags (mean 20.39) than vaping-warning posts had (“like” count: median 12; hashtags: mean 7.16). ConclusionsInstagram is dominated by pro-vaping content, and pro-vaping posts and user accounts seem to have more user engagement than vaping-warning accounts have. These results highlight the importance of regulating e-cigarette posts on social media and the urgency of identifying effective communication content and message delivery methods with the public about the health effects of e-cigarettes to ameliorate the epidemic of vaping in youth.