E-cigarettes don't help people quit smoking
A study of Google search trends shows very few people are interested in finding out information about how the devices can help them kick the habit - even though that is how they are promoted.
It found a dramatic jump in the popularity of the words ‘vape’ and ‘vaping’ but a decline in interest in ‘vaping health’ and ‘smoking cessation’.
Less than one per cent of 10 million of Google e-cigarette searches in 2013 and 2014 focused on quitting smoking.
Dr Rebecca Williams, of North Carolina University, said: “The e-cigarette industry, the media and the vaping community have promoted the notion that e-cigarettes are an effective device for quitting smoking, yet what we’re seeing is that there are very few people searching for information about that.
“They are more commonly searching for terms like ‘buy,’ shop,’ or ‘sale’.”
The study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine follows research earlier this year which claimed e-cigs are having the opposite effect to stopping smoking.
It showed smokers who use them are actually 28 percent less likely to quit the real thing.
The latest findings are based on an analysis of Google searches related to electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and revealed the number has soared dramatically from only 1,545,000 in 2010 to 8,498,000 in 2014.
Only three percent of all ENDS searches in 2013 and two percent in 2014 included terms searching for health information (e.g., “e-cigarette risks” or “is vaping healthy”).
Vaping and vaping-centric terms are also starting to overtake e-cigarette as the popular way to describe ENDS.
Dr Williams said: “Individuals in the US often endorse ENDS as smoking-cessation aids, and some surveys suggest that many believe using ENDS will help them quit combustible cigarettes.
“However, only a small and declining percentage of Google searchers for ENDS included terms indicative of cessation.
“The context of this discrepancy is critical. When primed by survey questions, individuals appear to link ENDS with cessation, but in the privacy of their own home (when no investigator is providing options), it appears that searches for ENDS and cessation are infrequent.”
Instead of burning tobacco, battery-powered e-cigs generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine and other chemicals.
When it’s used, the liquid chemicals in the cartridge are turned into a vapour or steam that is inhaled by the smoker.
It’s estimated there are currently 2.6 million adults in Great Britain using electronic cigarettes, while regular users in the US number roughly 12.5 million.
Co-author Professor John Ayers, of San Diego State University, said: “ENDS are the first tobacco product born in the online age.
“Examining the content of searches can reveal the searcher’s thoughts and continued analysis of Google search trends may fill some knowledge gaps and outline agendas for follow-up survey-based surveillance.”
Analyzing Google searches provides unique insights into the thoughts of ENDS users because all of the data is organic and only influenced by the searchers’ wants and their questions surrounding vaping.
This is why a decline in the number of searches related to ENDS as a cessation option or queries about the safety of vaping is particularly noteworthy.
Dr Williams said: “Individuals in the U.S. often endorse ENDS as smoking-cessation aids, and some surveys suggest that many believe using ENDS will help them quit combustible cigarettes.
“However, only a small and declining percentage of Google searchers for ENDS included terms indicative of cessation. The context of this discrepancy is critical.
“When primed by survey questions, individuals appear to link ENDS with cessation, but in the privacy of their own home (when no investigator is providing options), it appears that searches for ENDS and cessation are infrequent.”
While researchers are still trying to fully explore and understand vaping trends, one thing is certain: big data like the data for this study culled from Google searches may hold an important key to formulating public health policy going forward.
Dr Williams said: “Tobacco control has historically lagged behind online tobacco markets, leaving gaps in surveillance. Nowhere is this clearer than with the rise of ENDS.
“ENDS have become popular during a period without strong surveillance and a slowed public health reaction. Innovative methods like search query surveillance can improve the timeliness of tobacco control surveillance, especially around ENDS.”