Encoded exposure to tobacco use in social media predicts subsequent smoking behavior

Am J Health Promot. 2015 Mar-Apr;29(4):259-61. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.130214-ARB-69. Epub 2014 Mar 26.


Purpose: Assessing the potential link between smoking behavior and exposure to mass media depictions of smoking on social networking Web sites.

Design: A representative longitudinal panel of 200 young adults in Connecticut.

Setting: Telephone surveys were conducted by using computer assisted telephone interviewing technology and electronic dialing for random digit dialing and listed samples.

Subjects: Connecticut residents aged 18 to 24 years.

Measures: To measure encoded exposure, respondents were asked whether or not they had smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days and about how often they had seen tobacco use on television, in movies, and in social media content. Respondents were also asked about cigarette use in the past 30 days, and a series of additional questions that have been shown to be predictive of tobacco use.

Analysis: Logistic regression was used to test for our main prediction that reported exposure to social media tobacco depictions at time 1 would influence time 2 smoking behavior.

Results: Encoded exposure to social media tobacco depictions (B = .47, p < .05) was a significant predictor of time 2 smoking, even after controlling for all the aforementioned predictors.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that social media depictions of tobacco use predict future smoking tendency, over and above the influence of TV and movie depictions of smoking. This is the first known study to specifically assess the role of social media in informing tobacco behavior.

Keywords: Health Communication; Health focus: smoking control; Interpersonal Communication; Manuscript format: research; Mass Communication; Outcome measure: behavioral; Prevention Research; Research purpose: modeling/relationship testing; Setting: state/national; Social Media; Strategy: behavior change; Study design: nonexperimental; Target population age: youth; Target population circumstances: education/income level, geographic location; Tobacco.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Connecticut
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Smoking*
  • Social Media*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult