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One hour of social media a day doubles a child’s chance of smoking or vaping

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Published Time: 17.05.2024 - 01:40:16 Modified Time: 17.05.2024 - 01:40:16

Research suggests factors at play include adverts, paid influencers presenting it as trendy, and the addictive nature of online platforms Just an hour of social media a day doubles a young person’s chance of smoking or vaping, a BMJ study has found

Research suggests factors at play include adverts, paid influencers presenting it as trendy, and the addictive nature of online platforms

Just an hour of social media a day doubles a young person’s chance of smoking or vaping, a BMJ study has found.

Researchers found that the longer children and young people were exposed to social media, the greater the chance of them smoking or vaping.

Those who used platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) for less than an hour a day were 95 per cent more likely to smoke than those who did not use social media at all. 

Similarly, children and young people who used social media sites for between one and three hours a day were 92 per cent more likely to vape than those who did not use it.

Only 1 per cent of those aged 10 to 25 who did not use social media smoked or vaped, compared with 2 per cent if they used it for around an hour a day

This trend only increased with the amount of time a person spent interacting with friends online, researchers from Imperial College London found.

More than 10,800 people in the UK aged between 10 and 25 had their social media use and smoking or vaping habits analysed. In total, 8.6 per cent of the participants smoked cigarettes, 2.5 per cent used vapes, and 1 per cent used both.

The researchers found that children and young people who spent seven hours or more on social media on a weekday were three times more likely to vape, and three-and-a-half times more likely to smoke compared with non-users. 

The number of people who used a mixture of both vapes and cigarettes rose fivefold among those who spent seven-plus hours on social media compared with those who spent none.

Dr Nick Hopkinson, professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College and first author of the paper, suggested that advertisements, paid influencers presenting vapes and cigarettes as fashionable, and the addictive nature of social media could all be behind the trends.

“First, and most straightforwardly, there is evidence that the corporations behind cigarette smoking and vaping make use of social media to advertise and promote their products,” his paper said.

“This includes direct advertising which is algorithmically targeted and the use of paid social media influencers who present smoking and vaping as a fashionable and desirable activity.”

The authors said that the longer young people spend on social media, the greater their exposure to these will be.

“Second, social media use has been shown to have features in common with reward-seeking addictive behaviour. High social media use may increase susceptibility to other addictive behaviours like smoking.”

They add, that thirdly, because social media use is “largely supervised by parents”, it may encourage young people to adopt behaviours that are “transgressive” such as smoking or vaping.

The study was observational and therefore could not draw any conclusions about the cause of the trends seen.

When researchers tried to break down the patterns they had uncovered by social factors such as sex, age and household income, there was no discernable difference among those who smoked.

However, they did find that among vapers, males, under-18s, and those from higher income households were all more likely to use e-cigarettes.

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