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Tob Control doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051276
  • Research paper

Monitoring of non-cigarette tobacco use using Google Trends

  1. Laura Jean Bierut1
  1. 1Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  2. 2Department of Mathematics, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  3. 3Department of Economics, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Patricia A Cavazos-Rehg, Campus Box 8134, Department of Psychiatry, 660 South Euclid, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA; rehgp{at}psychiatry.wustl.edu
  • Received 5 August 2013
  • Revised 26 December 2013
  • Accepted 27 December 2013
  • Published Online First 5 February 2014

Abstract

Background Google Trends is an innovative monitoring system with unique potential to monitor and predict important phenomena that may be occurring at a population level. We sought to validate whether Google Trends can additionally detect regional trends in youth and adult tobacco use.

Methods We compared 2011 Google Trends relative search volume data for cigars, cigarillos, little cigars and smokeless tobacco with state prevalence of youth (grades 9–12) and adult (age 18 and older) use of these products using data from the 2011 United States state-level Youth Risk Behaviors Surveillance System and the 2010–2011 United States National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), respectively. We used the Pearson correlation coefficient to measure the associations.

Results We found significant positive correlations between state Google Trends cigar relative search volume and prevalence of cigar use among youth (r=0.39, R2 = 0.154, p=0.018) and adults (r=0.49, R2 = 0.243, p<0.001). Similarly, we found that the correlations between state Google Trends smokeless tobacco relative search volume and prevalence of smokeless tobacco use among youth and adults were both positive and significant (r=0.46, R2 = 0.209, p=0.003 and r=0.48, R2 = 0.226, p<0.001, respectively).

Conclusions The results of this study validate that Google Trends has the potential to be a valuable monitoring tool for tobacco use. The near real-time monitoring features of Google Trends may complement traditional surveillance methods and lead to faster and more convenient monitoring of emerging trends in tobacco use.

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