National surveys show that approximately nine million Americans love taking sweet hits from a vape. But why so many people live the vape life has eluded researchers, who are seeking those answers so that policymakers can make informed decisions about vaping legislation. A new study has shed some light on the mystery, revealing that the reason most people vape isn’t too complicated: They think it makes them look pretty cool.
In a paper published in PLOS One, San Diego State University researchers determined the most popular reasons people vaped in 2012 and 2015. Comparing vaping patterns in the two years revealed a pattern: Vaping is only becoming cooler with time. In 2012, 43 percent of the people they surveyed vaped to help them quit smoking cigarettes, while 21 percent of them vaped for their “social image.” But in 2015, image-conscious vaping increased by 16 percent; the desire to look cool surged past health reasons to become the number one reason why people vape.
The researchers reached this conclusion using Twitter, mining through 3 million tweets from those two years that included keywords like “electronic cigarette,” “e-cigs,” and “vaping.” Then, with the help of Amazon’s Mechanical Turks, they analyzed the content of the tweets and categorized them by common reasons for vaping (listed in the chart below). To preserve the anonymity of the Twitter users, the researchers didn’t include the actual tweets in their study, but they did provide samples that they thought had the same essence. Sample sentiments included: “love vaping in the club” and “ecigs are so freaking cool and now I have one!”
While the researchers argue that using social media data is an inexpensive and informative way to figure out why people vape, they do express concern that people may not have the most credible reasons for camping on that pen.
“Some of the reasons people vape appear to be dubious,” said study co-author and graduate student Eric Leas in a statement. “For example, vaping may be no less expensive than smoking combustibles, despite their naming that as a reason for vaping. Understanding how the public is potentially misinformed, rather than guessing, is a tremendous benefit for public health surveillance and practice.”
Vaping has a complicated relationship with health. Doctors can’t say that it is healthy — just this February, a JAMA study found that people who smoke electronic cigarettes daily have biological markers that correlate with an increased risk of heart disease. But research does demonstrate that vaping is healthier than actually smoking cigarettes: in February, a team of scientists announced in the Annals of Internal Medicine that e-cigarettes are less toxic and safer to use than conventional cigarettes. Choosing to vape is only “healthy” if they’re used to displace a more unhealthy habit — but, as this new study shows, at least you’ll think you look dope while doing it.