This project was conducted by Ell Lee, supervised by Lindsay Robertson, Janet Hoek, and Elizabeth Fenton.
Advocates of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) have used Twitter to promote “World Vape Day” (WVD), an annual campaign organized by pro-ENDS advocacy groups, some of which have links to the nicotine industry (e.g., via funding from the “Foundation for a Smoke-Free World”). In 2020, the campaign used dedicated social media accounts to disseminate WVD-branded images and campaign messages. We analysed pro-ENDS policy arguments using a random sample (n=2200) of approximately half the tweets extracted from those tweets posted between 26 May and 3 June 2020 that included the hashtag #WorldVapeDay. We used qualitative thematic analysis to code the arguments and descriptive analysis to identify the most frequently used co-hashtags. Core arguments related to four themes: harm reduction, smoking cessation, rights and justice, and opposition to ENDS restrictions. Tweets criticized individuals and groups perceived as opposing liberal ENDS regulation, and used personal testimonials to frame ENDS as a harm reduction tool and life-saving smoking cessation aid. Tweets also advanced rights-based arguments; they privileged adults’ rights over children’s rights, and called for greater recognition of consumers’ voices. Tweets frequently used hashtags associated with the WHO and World No Tobacco Day (WNTD). The WVD campaign presented pro-ENDS arguments that appeared to target policy-makers and that were strategically integrated with the WHO’s WNTD campaign.
Because social media platforms have considerable potential to influence policy actors, critically assessing pro-ENDS arguments and the campaigns used to promote these is vital to helping policy actors develop proportionate ENDS policy. For example, tweets are easily generated and duplicated, creating an impression of sizeable and influential stakeholders. Evidence that groups with industry links supported “World Vape Day” and that the campaign was targeted—at least in part—at WHO officials and followers of the WHO World No Tobacco Day campaign, highlights the importance of critically reviewing these campaigns.
Lee, E., Hoek, J., Fenton, E., Joshi, A., Evans-Reeves, K., & Robertson, L. (2023). An analysis of arguments advanced via twitter in an advocacy campaign to promote electronic nicotine delivery systems. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 25(3), 533-540.
Health Research Council of New Zealand programme grant 19/641 (2019)