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TikTok content overwhelmingly promotes vaping, putting young users at potential risk of e-cigarette use, according to researchers in Australia.
The popular social media platform's own policies on promoting e-cigarette use are often violated, their new study shows.
“Our study explored how e-cigarettes are promoted on TikTok, to assess the effectiveness of the platform's own 'drugs, controlled substances, alcohol and tobacco policy,'" said researcher Jonine Jancey, of the Curtin School of Population Health in Perth. “The sheer amount of potentially harmful content being fed to young people on TikTok shows self-regulation is failing.”
The findings show the dangers of letting social media platforms create and enforce their own content policies, she said.
“Of the 264 videos related to e-cigarettes that we studied and which had a total of 2.5 million views, 97.7% portrayed them positively, and these posts received 98.7% of the total views and 98.2% of the total likes,” Jancey said in a school news release. “These used humor, music, shared vaping tricks and referred to a 'vaping community,' supporting the normalization of these products.”
Of 69 posts reviewed by researchers, about 26% violated TikTok's content policy by promoting e-cigarettes for purchase, including links to information and discount details.
“It seems there are no major consequences for those who do not follow TikTok guidelines and violate content policy," Jancey said. "Social media platforms can decide the consequences for breaches of their policies, but they have a clear financial incentive not to punish people who breach their policies.”
Study co-author Tama Leaver, a professor of internet studies at the Curtin School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, said the videos are particularly powerful because they are made by young people for young people.
“This is essentially a form of peer-to-peer promotion where young people see their friends or celebrities portraying vaping in a positive way,” he said in the release. "In addition, some vaping content is posted by influencers who may actually be paid by the e-cigarette industry to promote their products, although this is not disclosed and young people watching these videos may not even know they are being advertised to.”
The findings were recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on e-cigarettes for teens.
SOURCE: Curtin University, news release, May 11, 2023
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