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Miscommunication about the US federal Tobacco 21 law: a content analysis of Twitter discussions
  1. Page D Dobbs1,
  2. Eric Schisler1,
  3. Jason B Colditz2,
  4. Brian A Primack3,4
  1. 1Health, Human Performance and Recreation, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, USA
  2. 2Institute for Clinical Research Education, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
  3. 3College of Education and Health Professions, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, USA
  4. 4College of Public Health and Human Science, Oregona State University, Corvallis, OR, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Page D Dobbs, Health, Human Performance and Recreation, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701, USA; pdobbs{at}


Objective Tobacco 21 is a law that sets the minimum legal sales age of tobacco products to 21. On 20 December 2019, the USA passed a federal Tobacco 21 law. The objective of this study is to explore Twitter discussions about the federal Tobacco 21 law in the USA leading up to enacted.

Methods Twitter messages about Tobacco 21 posted between September and December 2019 were collected via RITHM software. A 2% sample of all collected tweets were double coded by independent coders using a content analysis approach.

Results Findings included three content categories of tweets (news, youth and young adults and methods of avoiding the law) with eight subcodes. Most news tweets incorrectly described the law as a purchase law (54.7%). However, Tobacco 21 is in fact a sales law—it only includes penalties for tobacco retailers who sell to under-age purchasers. About one-fourth (27%) of the tweets involved youth and young adults, with some claiming the law would reduce youth smoking and others doubting its ability to limit youth access to tobacco products. Few tweets (2.5%) mentioned methods of circumventing the policy, such as having an older peer purchase tobacco.

Conclusions As several countries explore raising their age of sale of tobacco laws to 21, they should couple policy enactment with clear and accurate communication about the law. Compliance agencies at all levels (eg, local, regional, national) can use social media to identify policy loopholes and support vulnerable populations throughout the policy implementation process.

  • end game
  • public policy
  • social marketing

Data availability statement

Data are available from the corresponding author, PDD, upon reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available from the corresponding author, PDD, upon reasonable request.

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  • Contributors Conceptualisation: PDD, JBC, BAP. Data curation: PDD, ES. Formal analysis: PDD. Methodology: PDD, JBC, BAP. Project administration: JBC. Software: JBC. Validation: JBC, BAP. Funding acquisition: BAP. Supervision: BAP. Writing–original draft: PDD. Writing–review and editing: JBC, ES, BAP. Guarantor: PDD.

  • Funding This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute (grant number R01CA225773).

  • Disclaimer The information, views and opinions contained herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the funding organisations.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.