Study: Misinformation about e-cigs’ harms gets most engagement on Twitter

Twitter users are more likely to engage with tweets stating that e-cigarettes are as harmful or more harmful than smoking compared with tweets suggesting that e-cigarettes are completely harmless, according to a new study.

The study, published December 21, 2021, in the journal JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, was led by Jessica Liu, a PhD candidate in population health sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Although e-cigarettes are associated with potential health risks because they contain ingredients such as particulate matter and metals, there is also growing evidence that the short-term risks of vaping nicotine are considerably lower than smoking regular cigarettes. The new study sought to shed light on whether misperceptions about the relative harms of e-cigarettes compared with smoking may be deterring smokers from considering switching to e-cigarettes.

Liu and her colleagues conducted a web-based randomized controlled trial involving 2,400 adult smokers from the U.K. and U.S. They randomly assigned participants to view several different tweets. One of the tweets stated that e-cigarettes are as harmful or more harmful than smoking; another said that e-cigarettes are completely harmless; a third expressed uncertainty about e-cigarette harms. The first tweet got the most replies, retweets, likes, and shares.

The authors noted that, among U.S. adult smokers, misperceptions are on the rise that e-cigarettes are as harmful or more harmful than smoking. They said that further research is needed to explore the public health implications of the increased likelihood of people engaging with misinformation about e-cigarettes on social media platforms.

“Knowledge of the impact of misinformation is important to inform the development of corrective approaches or media literacy interventions to ensure that smokers have accurate perceptions of the relative harms of e-cigarettes and to help smokers make informed decisions for reducing harm,” they wrote.

Read the study: Smokers’ Likelihood to Engage With Information and Misinformation on Twitter About the Relative Harms of e-Cigarette Use: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial