Study Links Social Media Use to Increased Smoking and Vaping Risk Among Youth

A recent study published in Thorax examined the relationship between social media use and the risk of smoking and vaping among young individuals.

The study highlights how the tobacco industry leverages social media for targeted marketing and the use of paid influencers, contributing to health issues such as smoking and vaping among youth. Social media can foster reward-seeking addictive behaviors, making it essential to understand these processes for effective harm-prevention strategies. While much research has been conducted in the United States, there is limited information on this topic in the United Kingdom.

About the Study

This nationwide longitudinal study analyzed data from the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) between 2015 and 2021, focusing on individuals aged 10 to 25. Researchers investigated the impact of daily social media usage on the likelihood of smoking and vaping. They used logistic regressions and generalized estimating equations (GEE) to explore the associations, controlling for factors such as age, ethnicity, sex, income, residence type, and household smoking/vaping habits. Data were collected through face-to-face interviews and web-based questionnaires.

Participants were classified as current smokers if they smoked one to six or more cigarettes weekly and as current e-cigarette users if they used e-cigarettes at least once a week. The study considered urban or rural residence and income based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) scale. Sensitivity analyses included socioeconomic status and mental health as confounding variables, using the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12).

Results

According to Dentistry, The study included 10,808 individuals, providing 27,962 records. Among them, 8.6% were current cigarette smokers, 2.5% were current e-cigarette users, and 1.1% were dual users. Males were less likely than females to be in higher social media usage groups, and social media use increased with age. Parental smoking and vaping were more common among heavy social media users.

GEE models, adjusted for potential confounders, revealed that frequent social media use was associated with higher odds of current smoking, particularly for those with the highest social media use (adjusted odds ratios [AORs] of 3.6 to 5.0 for ≥7.0 hours/day compared to none). Similar dose-dependent relationships were observed for e-cigarette use (AORs of 2.7 to 5.3 for ≥7.0 hours/day compared to none).

Stratified analyses by gender and income showed consistent relationships for smoking. However, e-cigarette use associations were particularly strong among men (AOR 4.1) and those with higher incomes (AOR 7.9). Models for e-cigarette use were significant only for those under 18 years. Sensitivity analyses and GHQ-12 adjusted models yielded similar results for cigarette use, but no significant associations were found for e-cigarette or dual-use, indicating mental health influences smoking and vaping behaviors.

Conclusions

The study concludes that frequent social media use significantly increases the risk of smoking and vaping among young people. Individuals who spent at least 7.0 hours per day on social media had a 2.5-fold higher likelihood of engaging in these behaviors than those who did not use social media. The findings were robust across sensitivity analyses, with stronger associations for e-cigarette use among minors, males, and those with higher incomes.

Further research and potential governmental interventions are needed to address social media’s role in promoting smoking and vaping. Legislation and enforcement should be integral to internet safety and youth protection. Future studies should focus on specific social media platforms and the impact of social media on mental health.