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Home > Effects of brief exposure to misinformation about e-cigarette harms on twitter: a randomised controlled experiment.

Wright, Caroline and Williams, Philippa and Elizarova, Olga and Dahne, Jennifer and Bian, Jiang and Zhao, Yunpeng and Tan, Andy S L (2021) Effects of brief exposure to misinformation about e-cigarette harms on twitter: a randomised controlled experiment. BMJ open, 11, (9), e045445. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045445.

External website: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/11/9/e045445

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effect of exposure to misinformation about e-cigarette harms found on Twitter on adult current smokers' intention to quit smoking cigarettes, intention to purchase e-cigarettes and perceived relative harm of e-cigarettes compared with regular cigarettes.

SETTING: An online randomised controlled experiment conducted in November 2019 among USA and UK current smokers. 2400 adult current smokers aged ≥18 years who were not current e-cigarette users recruited from an online panel. Participants' were randomised in a 1:1:1:1 ratio using a least-fill randomiser function.

INTERVENTIONS: Viewing 4 tweets in random order within one of four conditions: (1) e-cigarettes are just as or more harmful than smoking, (2) e-cigarettes are completely harmless, (3) e-cigarette harms are uncertain, and (4) a control condition of tweets about physical activity. Self-reported post-test intention to quit smoking cigarettes, intention to purchase e-cigarettes, and perceived relative harm of e-cigarettes compared with smoking were the primary outcomes measured.

RESULTS: Among US and UK participants, after controlling for baseline measures of the outcome, exposure to tweets that e-cigarettes are as or more harmful than smoking versus control was associated with lower post-test intention to purchase e-cigarettes (β=-0.339, 95% CI -0.487 to -0.191, p<0.001) and increased post-test perceived relative harm of e-cigarettes (β=0.341, 95% CI 0.273 to 0.410, p<0.001). Among US smokers, exposure to tweets that e-cigarettes are completely harmless was associated with higher post-test intention to purchase e-cigarettes (β=0.229, 95% CI 0.002 to 0.456, p=0.048) and lower post-test perceived relative harm of e-cigarettes (β=-0.154, 95% CI -0.258 to -0.050, p=0.004).

CONCLUSIONS: US and UK adult current smokers may be deterred from considering using e-cigarettes after brief exposure to tweets that e-cigarettes were just as or more harmful than smoking. Conversely, US adult current smokers may be encouraged to use e-cigarettes after exposure to tweets that e-cigarettes are completely harmless. These findings suggest that misinformation about e-cigarette harms may influence some adult smokers' decisions to consider using e-cigarettes.


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