98% of TikTok videos with vaping paint habit in positive light, normalize behavior among teens

PERTH, Australia — Both vaping and TikTok have been criticized for their negative impact on the health of minors. Now, a new study is linking the two together — finding that the overwhelming majority of TikTok videos featuring vaping products paints the controversial habit in a positive light. Specifically, a team from Curtin University says a staggering 98 percent of these videos promotes vaping, putting more teens at risk of using these substances.

“Our study explored how e-cigarettes are promoted on TikTok, to assess the effectiveness of the platform’s own ‘drugs, controlled substances, alcohol and tobacco policy’,” says Professor Jonine Jancey, lead researcher and professor at the Curtin School of Population Health. “The sheer amount of potentially harmful content being fed to young people on TikTok shows self-regulation is failing.”

TikTok has policies in place regarding vaping, but the problem is that they are very frequently violated. Jancey says that this goes to show that in light of this, you can’t always rely on apps to enforce their own rules and regulate content on their apps.

“Of the 264 videos related to e-cigarettes that we studied and which had a total of 2.5 million views, 97.7 percent portrayed them positively, and these posts received 98.7 percent of the total views and 98.2 percent of the total likes. These used humor, music, shared vaping tricks and referred to a ‘vaping community’, supporting the normalization of these products,” Jancey explains in a university release.

“Sixty-nine of the posts (26.1 percent) we reviewed violated TikTok’s content policy by promoting these products for purchase. This included videos containing details on how and where to purchase e-cigarette products, links to online retailers and other social media accounts for purchasing products and offers such as ‘buy three, get one free’ and giveaways,” she adds.

tiktok smartphone video
Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

Given these results, Prof. Jancey calls for tightened federal regulations that ensure penalties are enforced for not only content creators, but social media platforms who don’t follow policies and advertising laws set by the government.

“It seems there are no major consequences for those who do not follow TikTok guidelines and violate content policy. Social media platforms can decide the consequences for breaches of their policies, but they have a clear financial incentive not to punish people who breach their policies,” says Prof. Jancey.

When vaping videos are posted online, researchers say impressionable adolescents see it portrayed in a positive way, and often by other adolescents. This influences viewers to engage in the habit too. Some influencers might even be paid by an e-cigarette company to post about their product, which isn’t always clearly conveyed in the messaging. Jancey firmly believes that the way to fix this is to ensure that content creators and social media platforms know their consequences and are held accountable.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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