E-cigarettes are touted as a safe alternative to tobacco, but research has been inconclusive. (Christophe Ena/AP Photo/File)

Researchers don’t yet know the extent of harm that e-cigarettes can cause. They do know that e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a very addictive drug. So why do so many teenagers and young adults have positive views about them?

At the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health, we are interested in how e-cigarettes are seen on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Our team’s research shows that people who post online messages or pictures of e-cigarettes usually are discussing them in a positive way.

For example, someone on Twitter might post about how delicious certain e-cigarette flavors are. That message then gets shared with all of his or her friends. Facebook and Instagram users post pictures or videos of people doing cool tricks with e-cigarettes—like blowing smoke rings—or showing off new custom devices. When friends and followers see these positive images, it makes them believe that e-cigarettes are cool, harmless and fun to try.

E-cigarettes are seen on display at a Vape store in Chicago. (AP Photo/File)

Major tobacco companies that own many of these e-cigarette brands are also using these social media sites to advertise their products. New Food and Drug Administration regulations are starting to limit how e-cigarettes can be advertised. Social media is still unregulated. Even if manufacturers were limited as to how and where they advertise, nothing stops people from sharing messages and pictures of “cool” vapor tricks or talking about how great some flavors taste.

People should be cautious of social media portraying e-cigarettes to be fun and normal. No matter how “cool” it looks, consumers should learn about the health risks and dangers of e-cigarette use that are not discussed on Facebook or Twitter.

Kar-Hai Chu, PhD, is assistant professor of medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health

 

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