Title

Discussions and Misinformation About Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems and COVID-19: Qualitative Analysis of Twitter Content

DOI

10.2196/26335

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

4-1-2022

Publication Title

JMIR Formative Research

Volume

6

Issue

4

Keywords

communication, concern, conspiracy, coronavirus, COVID-19, discussion, e-cigarette, electronic nicotine delivery systems, misinformation, public health, severity, social media, Twitter

Abstract

Background: Misinformation and conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are increasing. Some of this may stem from early reports suggesting a lower risk of severe COVID-19 in nicotine users. Additionally, a common conspiracy is that the e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak of 2019 was actually an early presentation of COVID-19. This may have important public health ramifications for both COVID-19 control and ENDS use. Objective: Twitter is an ideal tool for analyzing real-time public discussions related to both ENDS and COVID-19. This study seeks to collect and classify Twitter messages ("tweets") related to ENDS and COVID-19 to inform public health messaging. Methods: Approximately 2.1 million tweets matching ENDS-related keywords were collected from March 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020, and were then filtered for COVID-19-related keywords, resulting in 67,321 original tweets. A 5% (n=3366) subsample was obtained for human coding using a systematically developed codebook. Tweets were coded for relevance to the topic and four overarching categories. Results: A total of 1930 (57.3%) tweets were coded as relevant to the research topic. Half (n=1008, 52.2%) of these discussed a perceived association between ENDS use and COVID-19 susceptibility or severity, with 42.4% (n=818) suggesting that ENDS use is associated with worse COVID-19 symptoms. One-quarter (n=479, 24.8%) of tweets discussed the perceived similarity/dissimilarity of COVID-19 and EVALI, and 13.8% (n=266) discussed ENDS use behavior. Misinformation and conspiracy theories were present throughout all coding categories. Conclusions: Discussions about ENDS use and COVID-19 on Twitter frequently highlight concerns about the susceptibility and severity of COVID-19 for ENDS users; however, many contain misinformation and conspiracy theories. Public health messaging should capitalize on these concerns and amplify accurate Twitter messaging.

Open Access

Gold

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