Vaping promotion on social media impacting youth in Australia

Image courtesy of Channel News Asia

Social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook predominantly exhibit vaping in a favourable manner, giving the impression that e-cigarette usage is widespread and socially acceptable. In Australia, traditional tobacco advertising has been prohibited for decades; however, e-cigarettes are extensively promoted on social media, undermining some of the progress made throughout earlier years.

Most platforms have content policies explicitly prohibiting the promotion of tobacco product usage, including e-cigarettes. However, recent research demonstrates these policies are regularly breached with minimal repercussions. E-cigarette usage among young individuals, including those from Australia, is on the rise, along with mounting evidence regarding the detrimental health effects of e-cigarettes.

Positive social media messages regarding vaping may especially influence young people, who are the most frequent social media users. In some instances, these messages have been observed to directly target teenagers. Studies indicate that young individuals exposed to social media posts featuring e-cigarettes are more inclined to vape and perceive e-cigarettes positively. This is applicable to both e-cigarette advertising and user-generated content, leading to creators effectively marketing e-cigarette products on behalf of the companies involved.

A recent study analysed 264 English languages user-generated e-cigarette videos on TikTok and evaluated them against the platform’s content policy during February. The findings revealed that 98% of the videos portrayed e-cigarettes positively, while over a quarter of the videos explicitly violated TikTok’s content policy by promoting vaping products for purchase.

Health warnings were scarce among the observed videos, with only 2% of posts referring to vape or nicotine addiction. A minor portion of posts cited public health professionals or discussed e-cigarette regulation, but these posts were generally less popular, receiving fewer views and likes.

Approximately half of the videos referred to a vaping community, which tended to be slightly more popular than those that didn’t mention a shared identity. This might contribute to shaping norms around e-cigarette usage and enhancing the perception of vaping as a socially acceptable activity. Popular posts often featured references to vape tricks (such as creating shapes from an exhaled aerosol) and used humour, which is effective in engaging young social media users.

Videos contravening content policies frequently provided details on purchasing e-cigarette products, including links to online retailers and other social media accounts. Promotions like giveaways and sale prices were regularly highlighted, despite being in direct violation of content policies, and many posts included product reviews.

Relying on platforms to create and enforce content policies is inadequate. Social media policies are frequently broken without significant consequences, as the platforms themselves determine the penalties for breaches. This issue arises because social media platforms have a clear financial incentive not to penalise those who violate their policies.

Although the federal government has recently taken a firm stance against recreational vaping among young people via regulations, enforcement, education, plain packaging, and a ban on flavourings, they have not addressed e-cigarette advertising, promotion, and sponsorship on social media. Enforcement of policies must be emphasised, including requiring social media platforms to report on their efforts to ensure regulations are upheld.

The existing policies and moderation processes are failing to limit the dissemination of pro e-cigarette content on TikTok, thereby exposing young social media users to e-cigarette usage. Greater regulation of e-cigarette content and promotion is necessary to prevent future uptake and harm to young individuals, reports Channel News Asia.

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Alex Morgan

Alex is a 42-year-old former corporate executive and business consultant with a degree in business administration. Boasting over 15 years of experience working in various industries, including technology, finance, and marketing, Alex has acquired in-depth knowledge about business strategies, management principles, and market trends. In recent years, Alex has transitioned into writing business articles and providing expert commentary on business-related issues. Fluent in English and proficient in data analysis, Alex strives to deliver well-researched and insightful content to readers, combining practical experience with a keen analytical eye to offer valuable perspectives on the ever-evolving business landscape.