New e-cig study tracks ‘reasons for vaping’ via Twitter

A team of researchers from San Diego State University has just announced the results of a new type of e-cig study which gathers information via Twitter feeds targeting very specific keywords.  The lead scientist is a man named John W. Ayers who is considered in some circles to be an expert in public health surveillance.  According to the research, quitting smoking is still the top reason why millions of people vape.

Ayers and his team believe that by secretly monitoring, evaluating, and categorizing more than 3 million public tweets using keywords like “e-cigarette,’, e-cig,” “vape,” and dozens of alternatives, then they acquire a more accurate insight into the mind of the traditional vaper than can be accomplished by a standard survey or questionnaire.

“Just look to surveys from the recent presidential election or Brexit as examples of surveys’ weakening ability to gauge public sentiment, attitudes or behaviors,” Ayers states in Science Daily. “But what if we could listen in to what people are naturally saying about e-cigarettes to their friends rather than a surveyor?”


As creepy as it may sound to eavesdrop on millions of tweeting vapers, Ayers and his team collected some rather interesting data from the multitudes of tweets compiled between 2012 and 2015.  The e-cig study included some additional parameters other than the keyword requirements.  For example, retweets, spam, and advertisements from vendors were completely disregarded.  And only English-speaking tweets from supposedly real, live, human beings were used for the research conclusions.

Conclusions of the San Diego State University e-cigs study

One of the perhaps more alarming conclusions from Myers’ e-cig study seems to suggest that the reasons for using electronic cigarettes appear to be shifting in recent years.   While “quitting smoking” was the most popular reason given in 2012 at 43 percent, by 2015 “social image” had become the top response rising from 21 percent in 2012 to 37 percent in 2015.  Other reasons given include the following (chart provided within the Ayers Study and republished on Science Daily).

Co-authors admit that they are anti-vaping

It should also be noted that Ayers and his team are admittedly anti-vaping, which can easily cloud their interpretations of the collected data.  For example, just because someone tweets that vaping is “cool” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are submitting to peer pressure to “look cool.”  The social stigma attached to smoking conventional cigarettes has changed dramatically – even since 2012 – with the massive surge in popularity of vaping.

If someone tweets that they like to vape because it looks cool, then they might be simply saying that “vaping looks cool compared to smoking, which is why I quit smoking and started to vape.”  The flaw in Ayers’ study is that Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet.  Responses are severely limited simply out of necessity.  Which begs the question, why did Ayer’s choose to monitor Twitter posts rather than Facebook, which allows for a more detailed conversation?

Of course, another major flaw in the e-cig study is that Ayers and his team openly admit that they are very anti-vaping.  In the article posted on Science Daily, Ayers issued the following statement.

“Without any priming or direct costs associated with data collection, public health can use social media surveillance to understand why people vape, yielding actionable intelligence for decision making on how to discourage vaping,”

This bias “to discourage vaping” can easily lead to clouded judgments or preconceived assumptions when analyzing the related scientific data of any e-cig study. For this reason, scientists must always approach their studies from a totally objective viewpoint.  This is the trouble with so much of the “research” coming from the FDA and the CDC.  These types of studies are designed to produced specific scientific results that support pre-determined conclusions.

For example, Ayers claims that misinformation campaigns surrounding e-cigs can easily lead to some less than accurate “reasons” stated by the unsuspecting Tweeters.  In the conclusion section of the study, Ayers states his belief that vaping is no less expensive than smoking combustible cigarettes.  And since so many people in the survey cited “because they are cheap” as a primary reason for vaping, then Ayers alleges that millions of vapers have been essentially tricked into vaping.

But at least one of Ayers’ coauthors, Mark Dredze of John Hopkins University, warns that much more research is needed before reaching such a conclusion.

“Given the current prevalence of vaping, it would require more than 50,000 screening interviews and cost millions of dollars to have a single snapshot comparable to our study.”

The overall conclusion of the Ayers study suggests that people are no longer vaping primarily to quit smoking, but they are vaping to “look cool.”  Once again, we have an “e-cig study” pre-designed to support an already determined conclusion – Teens are attracted to vaping because of the cotton candy flavors and pretty-colored e-liquid bottles.

Vaping might look way-cooler than smoking, but it is 95% healthier, too.  This little tidbit of information is never mentioned in the Ayers study – anywhere.

Article Credit: Matt Rowland

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