Tobacco Data Stars Are Aligned: Trending, Spending, Using, and Reality

Our neatly tied digital world allows for connections that create new insights, quickly. At another point in time readily seeing connections may not have happened. We as a nation have become less mass market centric and more Facebook likes and friends, our Twitter Stream and followers, and blog readers. Within this silo of small community connections are where sometimes bigger pictures can be drawn. Insights made. And to use a common definition of insights we make ‘discontinuous discoveries’. 

Just to be real, this is no eureka moment in the tub. This is just connecting the dots on a large digital canvas while looking at small places. 

Two weeks ago I posted a link to a paper published in Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) “Using Twitter to Examine Smoking Behavior and Perceptions of Emerging Tobacco Products“. 

The paper uses Twitter to look deep inside the person and their motivations, reaction, and driving forces. The authors identified new tobacco trends and discussions while keeping in sight the positive and negative sentiments regarding tobacco. The authors identified the highest correlates of positive sentiment, the hookah and e-cigarettes. 

A day later Stuart Elliott Media & Advertising column in the NY Times published this “E-Cigareets Makers’ Ads Echo Tobacco’s Heyday“. The article pointed out e-cigarette companies are spending more dollars on television commercials and sales in this category will reach $1.7 billion buy the end of 2013. Elliott points out they are spending on promotions, events, sample giveaways, and print ads like the olden times. How can one forget the glamorous and vaccine hater Jenny McCarthy. She is a spokesperson for e-cigareets. You should now think those ads for Chesterfield using Ronald Regan. The worry is we’re returning to a time when cigarette were glamorous. 

MMWR in the Weekly on September 6 had the following data: Notes from the Field: Electronic Cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students US 2011-2012. CDC offers this data:

During 2011–2012, among all students in grades 6–12, ever e-cigarette use increased from 3.3% to 6.8% (p<0.05) (Figure); current e-cigarette use increased from 1.1% to 2.1% (p<0.05), and current use of both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes increased from 0.8% to 1.6% (p<0.05). In 2012, among ever e-cigarette users, 9.3% reported never smoking conventional cigarettes; among current e-cigarette users, 76.3% reported current conventional cigarette smoking.

Among middle school students, ever e-cigarette use increased from 1.4% to 2.7% during 2011–2012 (p<0.05) (Figure); current e-cigarette use increased from 0.6% to 1.1% (p<0.05), and current use of both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes increased from 0.3% to 0.7% (p<0.05). In 2012, among middle school ever e-cigarette users, 20.3% reported never smoking conventional cigarettes; among middle school current e-cigarette users, 61.1% reported current conventional cigarette smoking.

Among high school students, ever e-cigarette use increased from 4.7% to 10.0% during 2011–2012 (p<0.05); current e-cigarette use increased from 1.5% to 2.8% (p<0.05), and current use of both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes increased from 1.2% to 2.2% (p<0.05). In 2012, among high school ever e-cigarette users, 7.2% reported never smoking conventional cigarettes; among high school current e-cigarette users, 80.5% reported current conventional cigarette smoking.

Randye Hoder writing on the Motherlode column in the NY Times “E-Cigarette Marketers Have an Eye on Teens” presents us with some boots on the ground observations. 

I was standing outside our neighborhood ice cream shop one recent evening when I noticed a plume of smoke rise above a gaggle of teenagers waiting in line ahead of me.

“Wow,” I thought, “that takes some serious chutzpah.” These kids were smoking in public without the fear of getting caught.

A few minutes later, I realized that it wasn’t actually smoke coming out of their mouths; it was vapor, being inhaled and exhaled from battery-operated electronic cigarettes

There we have it. Researchers using Twitter see trends in tobacco use using not only Twitter but linguistics, e-cigarette manufactures are spending large sums of money promoting their brands, CDC has data showing the growth of e-cigarette use among teens growing, and finally a mom sees it on the street. How long till the clinical trials show a link between e-cigarettes and disease? 

It could not be clearer the links between spending, use, trending and reality. Ten or fifteen years ago we may have had a study published by the CDC showing the growth of teen smoking and perhaps if we dug deeper we could find how much marketing dollars were spent. And we may have mothers complaining about the corner store selling cigarettes to teens. But we have within a matter of two weeks. Data/knowledge dropped in our digital laps neatly tied in a bow. The data shows trending, spending, using, and reality. 

This is not about tobacco killing us but about small discreet data points that give us something resembling big data and a way to speak to this growing demographic that we have never had before. The question becomes one of what do we do with this, how will we turn this around, and who will do it? 

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