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TikTok: an unhealthy influence

An unhealthy influence: TikTok’s troubling health bomb. TikTok exposes young people to videos that could reinforce a positive attitude towards vaping and e-cigarette usage, new University of Queensland research has found.

Lead author from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use ResearchPhD student Tianze Sun said the team analysed TikTok videos to understand how vaping and e-cigarette-related videos were portrayed.

“Of the 808 videos in our sample, we found that positive portrayals of e-cigarette use were viewed over 1.1 billion times, accounting for 63 per cent of the total sample,” Miss Sun said.

“Videos negatively depicting vaping and e-cigarettes only counted for 13 per cent of the total sample, while 27 per cent portrayed vaping and e-cigarettes neutrally.

“Considering accessibility of these videos and previous studies showing exposure to vaping-related content is associated with increased likelihood of future e-cigarette use, consideration of age restrictions on social media platforms is recommended.”

Co-author from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research Dr Gary Chan said most of the videos addressed vaping and e-cigarettes in a light-hearted manner, with little reference to health consequences.

“More than half the videos we studied fell under the thematic category of ‘comedy and joke’,” Dr Chan said.

“The next most common themes were ‘lifestyle and acceptability’ and ‘marketing’.

“Videos that showed vaping tricks had a significantly higher number of views at 487 million compared to videos about nicotine and addiction at only 195 million.

“Adolescents are susceptible to peer influence, increasingly via social media, and this is a concern when emerging evidence suggests vaping has detrimental effects on the developing brain, lungs and heart.”

In the United States where advertising and sales for e-cigarettes were not tightly regulated when they first hit the consumer market, youth vaping increased dramatically.

From 2017 to 2020, current e-cigarette use — defined by using at least once in the past 30 days — by high school students in the United States increased from 11.7 to 19.6 per cent.

TikTok users spend on average 52 minutes on the platform each day, watching more than 200 videos per day.

“Effective age restrictions would likely reduce adolescent exposure to the positive portrayal of vaping across social media platforms,” Dr Chan said

A total of 11 UQ authors contributed to the research.

This study is published in Tobacco Control (DOI: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2021-056619).

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