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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / July 2022 / Twitter Users Soured on Flavored e-Cigs Following FDA Ban

Twitter Users Soured on Flavored e-Cigs Following FDA Ban

person holding e-cigarette in a cloud of vapor overlaid with a text message bubble containing a happy, neutral and sad face.In January of 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a ban on the sale of some flavored e-cigs. Shortly thereafter, sentiments about e-cigs seemed to sour on Twitter, according to a study led by UR CTSI researchers. While they didn’t study behavior directly, they believe these results may suggest that the FDA policy impacted flavored e-cig use.

Vaping products – especially fruit or mint flavored products – are very popular among teens. While e-cigs can help some people quit smoking, they are generally harmful for young people and non-smokers, putting their health at risk and providing a gateway to tobacco smoking.

The FDA’s 2020 policy banned the sale of all unauthorized flavored e-cig cartridges, except menthol and tobacco flavors, which were less popular among minors. The policy also prohibited the sale of any e-cig product targeted to teenagers and young adults and stipulated that manufacturers must take steps to prevent minors’ access to e-cigs.

“The FDA flavor ban and state and local policies that followed all hope to address the current vaping epidemic in youth,” said study senior author Dongmei Li, Ph.D., associate professor of Clinical and Translational Research, Public Health Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology at URMC. “Our research uses social media to gauge how these policies might change public perception about vaping.”

The study, published in JMIR Health and Surveillance, mined millions of tweets from Twitter users in the U.S. from before and after the FDA policy was announced and went into effect. The proportion of tweets with a negative sentiment about e-cigs significantly increased after the FDA policy was announced, while tweets with a positive sentiment about the FDA policy also increased.

Before the ban, the most prevalent topic of e-cig tweets was “stop vaping.” After the ban was announced, topics shifted to the ban itself and how to buy vaping products. After the enforcement of the ban began on February 6, 2020, the most prevalent topic of e-cig tweets was the risk of getting COVID.

These data suggest that sentiments about e-cigs changed in the U.S. following the FDA policy, but the researchers don’t know what that means for behavior. Their next step is to investigate whether people quit vaping following the policy, or if they switched to other e-cig products or went back to smoking tobacco.

While the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed a slight decrease in e-cig use among U.S. youth, the number of middle and high school students who say they currently vape remains high. And the FDA is continuing efforts to bring that number down.

“The recent FDA order denying JUUL’s premarket tobacco product application due to a lack of toxicological data is further action addressing the vaping epidemic,” said Li. “JUUL still has a large share of the e-cig market and removing these products from the market could have a big impact on availability of e-cigs.”

The team also recently published another study in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance showing that sentiment toward e-cigs also changed on Twitter after New York state implemented a flavored e-cig ban. The New York policy banned online sales of all flavored vapor products as well as physical sale of flavored vapor products, except tobacco flavor and any products with a premarket approval from the FDA.

Additional authors of the UR CTSI-led studies include: Xinyi Lu, Li Sun, Yankun Gao, Zidian Xie, Ph.D.

Michael Hazard | 7/14/2022

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