Home > Addictive potential of e-cigarettes as reported in e-cigarette online forums: netnographic analysis of subjective experiences.

Szafran, Daria and Görig, Tatiana and Vollstädt-Klein, Sabine and Grundinger, Nadja and Mons, Ute and Lohner, Valerie and Schneider, Sven and Andreas, Marike (2023) Addictive potential of e-cigarettes as reported in e-cigarette online forums: netnographic analysis of subjective experiences. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 25, e41669. doi: 10.2196/41669.

External website: https://www.jmir.org/2023/1/e41669

BACKGROUND: While e-cigarettes usually contain nicotine, their addictive potential is not yet fully understood. We hypothesized that if e-cigarettes are addictive, users will experience typical symptoms of addiction.

OBJECTIVE & METHODS: The aim of our study was to investigate whether and how e-cigarette users report signs of addiction. We identified 3 large German-language e-cigarette online forums via a systematic Google search. Based on a netnographic approach, we used deductive content analysis to investigate relevant posts in these forums. Netnography has the advantage of limiting the social desirability bias that prevails in face-to-face research, such as focus groups. The data were coded according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) criteria for tobacco use disorder, adapted for e-cigarettes. The DSM-5 criteria were used to portray a broad spectrum of possible experiences of addiction.

RESULTS: Overall, 5337 threads in 3 forums were screened, and 451 threads containing relevant information were included in the analysis. Users reported experiences consistent with the DSM-5 criteria, such as craving e-cigarettes, excessive time spent vaping, and health issues related to e-cigarette use. However, our analysis also showed that users reported the absence of typical tobacco use disorder criteria, such as successful attempts to reduce the nicotine dosage. For most themes, reports of their absence were more frequent than of their presence. The absence of perceived addiction was mostly reported in contrast to prior tobacco smoking.

CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study to use a netnographic approach to explore unfiltered self-reports of experiences of e-cigarette addiction by users in online forums. As hypothesized, some but not all users reported subjective experiences that corresponded to the criteria of tobacco use disorder as defined by the DSM-5. Nevertheless, subjective reports also indicated that many e-cigarette users felt in control of their behavior, especially in contrast to their prior use of tobacco cigarettes. The finding that some e-cigarette users subjectively experience addiction highlights the need for effective cessation programs to support users who experience their e-cigarette use as burdensome. This research can guide the refinement of instruments to assess e-cigarette addiction and guide cessation programs.

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