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Vaping on Instagram: cloud chasing, hand checks and product placement
  1. Kar-Hai Chu,
  2. Jon-Patrick Allem,
  3. Tess Boley Cruz,
  4. Jennifer B Unger
  1. Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kar-Hai Chu, Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California, 2001 North Soto Street, 3rd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90032, USA; karhaich{at}


Introduction This study documented images posted on Instagram of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarette) and vaping (activity associated with e-cigarette use). Although e-cigarettes have been studied on Twitter, few studies have focused on Instagram, despite having 500 million users. Instagram's emphasis on images warranted investigation of e-cigarettes, as past tobacco industry strategies demonstrated that images could be used to mislead in advertisements, or normalise tobacco-related behaviours. Findings should prove informative to tobacco control policies in the future.

Methods 3 months of publicly available data were collected from Instagram, including images and associated metadata (n=2208). Themes of images were classified as (1) activity, for example, a person blowing vapour; (2) product, for example, a personal photo of an e-cigarette device; (3) advertisement; (4) text, for example, ‘meme’ or image containing mostly text and (5) other. User endorsement (likes) of each type of image was recorded. Caption text was analysed to explore different trends in vaping and e-cigarette-related text.

Results Analyses found that advertisement-themed images were most common (29%), followed by product (28%), and activity (18%). Likes were more likely to accompany activity and product-themed images compared with advertisement or text-themed images (p<0.01). Vaping-related text greatly outnumbered e-cigarette-related text in the image captions.

Conclusions Instagram affords its users the ability to post images of e-cigarette-related behaviours and gives advertisers the opportunity to display their product. Future research should incorporate novel data streams to improve public health surveillance, survey development and educational campaigns.

  • Electronic nicotine delivery devices
  • Surveillance and monitoring
  • Advertising and Promotion
  • Media
  • Social marketing

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