Introduction: A 2009 petition opposing a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) garnered international attention from e-cig users (vapers). Petitioners' comments described the perceived benefits of vaping.
Methods: We conducted a qualitative and quantitative analysis of petitioners' comments. A sample of 200 petitioner names was sought in public records. Reviewers identified 13 major themes in a sample of comments, and themes related to current controversies were added. For each theme, software pattern-matching instructions (regular expressions) were developed and were used to scan comments. Agreement between reviewers and software was calculated; theme prevalence and clustering was ascertained.
Results: A total of 13,414 signatures and 8,285 comments from 50 states and 75 nations were collected in 6 months. Temporal patterns and name matches in public records suggest that most petitioners are authentic. Agreement between reviewers and software was moderate to high (κ = 0.4-0.8). Commonly cited themes were "e-cigs helped me quit" (34%), "a ban would be counterproductive" (15%), and "my health improved with e-cigs" (13%). Two clusters of themes emerged: the first combined comments about smoking cessation, health benefits, and smoking relapse that an e-cig ban would cause; the second combined themes that a "ban would be counterproductive," it would infringe on personal liberties, and it was motivated by government or industrial greed. People who cited mental health issues often mentioned avoiding withdrawal as a benefit of e-cigs.
Conclusions: Early e-cig adopters were both frustrated and confused by discussion of a ban. They believed that e-cigs safely delivered nicotine and helped them quit smoking.
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