Quitting smoking can be difficult and misleading information via social media can make the process even harder. This is according to a new study on e-cigarettes and Twitter.
A group of British and American researchers have been studying how inaccurate information about harm on the Twitter (now X) platform affected smokers who were considering switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes. It was found that smokers were often negatively affected by tweets that falsely implied that e-cigs are as harmful as conventional cigarettes.
"Health information is widely available online. In the US, 75 per cent use the internet as their first source of health information. We also have recent reports showing that around 63 per cent of Britons use the internet to search for health-related information." says the doctor. Caroline Brightwho led the study from Bristol Medical School, to the newspaper The Mirror.
Smokers reacted to tweets
The study is the first of its kind and was published at the Bristol University together with the American University of Pennsylvania.
1400 smokers participated in the study. Smokers were shown different types of health information. They were then asked to answer questions about their views on e-cigarettes, their intention to buy them, how they perceived the products compared to regular cigarettes, and their intention to quit smoking. The procedure was repeated with new tweets that showed both accurate information (that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than cigarettes) and other messages claiming the opposite.
Most affected by the negative
The results showed that smokers in both countries were discouraged from using e-cigarettes after reading tweets saying that e-cigarettes were as harmful or more harmful than smoking.
"The results are important. They show that even brief exposure to misinformation about e-cigarettes can influence the efforts we make to reduce the harms of tobacco smoking in both the US and the UK." Says Andy Tan, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, who coordinated the study in the US.
The study was funded by Cancer Research UK (British Cancer Society). In the United Kingdom, where the authorities want to reduce damage of tobacco smoking by persuading smokers to choose less harmful alternatives to cigarettes, researchers are concerned about the findings.
"The combination of the ease with which misleading health information can be disseminated and the fact that many people choose to follow even misleading advice has serious consequences for public health," says Mr Van Rompuy. Caroline Bright.