Background: The video-sharing website, YouTube, has become an important avenue for product marketing, including tobacco products. It may also serve as an important medium for promoting electronic cigarettes, which have rapidly increased in popularity and are heavily marketed online. While a few studies have examined a limited subset of tobacco-related videos on YouTube, none has explored e-cigarette videos' overall presence on the platform.
Objective: To quantify e-cigarette-related videos on YouTube, assess their content, and characterize levels of engagement with those videos. Understanding promotion and discussion of e-cigarettes on YouTube may help clarify the platform's impact on consumer attitudes and behaviors and inform regulations.
Methods: Using an automated crawling procedure and keyword rules, e-cigarette-related videos posted on YouTube and their associated metadata were collected between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013. Metadata were analyzed to describe posting and viewing time trends, number of views, comments, and ratings. Metadata were content coded for mentions of health, safety, smoking cessation, promotional offers, Web addresses, product types, top-selling brands, or names of celebrity endorsers.
Results: As of June 30, 2013, approximately 28,000 videos related to e-cigarettes were captured. Videos were posted by approximately 10,000 unique YouTube accounts, viewed more than 100 million times, rated over 380,000 times, and commented on more than 280,000 times. More than 2200 new videos were being uploaded every month by June 2013. The top 1% of most-viewed videos accounted for 44% of total views. Text fields for the majority of videos mentioned websites (70.11%); many referenced health (13.63%), safety (10.12%), smoking cessation (9.22%), or top e-cigarette brands (33.39%). The number of e-cigarette-related YouTube videos was projected to exceed 65,000 by the end of 2014, with approximately 190 million views.
Conclusions: YouTube is a major information-sharing platform for electronic cigarettes. YouTube appears to be used unevenly for promotional purposes by e-cigarette brands, and our analyses indicated a high level of user engagement with a small subset of content. There is evidence that YouTube videos promote e-cigarettes as cigarette smoking cessation tools. Presence and reach of e-cigarette videos on YouTube warrants attention from public health professionals and policymakers.
Keywords: ENDS; YouTube; electronic cigarettes; electronic nicotine delivery systems; social media; tobacco products.