BackgroundMenthol cigarettes are used disproportionately by African American, female, and adolescent smokers. Twitter is also used disproportionately by minority and younger populations, providing a unique window into conversations reflecting social norms, behavioral intentions, and sentiment toward menthol cigarettes.
ObjectiveOur purpose was to identify the content and frequency of conversations about menthol cigarettes, including themes, populations, user smoking status, other tobacco or substances, tweet characteristics, and sentiment. We also examined differences in menthol cigarette sentiment by prevalent categories, which allowed us to assess potential perceptions, misperceptions, and social norms about menthol cigarettes on Twitter. This approach can inform communication about these products, particularly to subgroups who are at risk for menthol cigarette use.
MethodsThrough a combination of human and machine classification, we identified 94,627 menthol cigarette-relevant tweets from February 1, 2012 to January 31, 2013 (1 year) from over 47 million tobacco-related messages gathered prospectively from the Twitter Firehose of all public tweets and metadata. Then, 4 human coders evaluated a random sample of 7000 tweets for categories, including sentiment toward menthol cigarettes.
ResultsWe found that 47.98% (3194/6657) of tweets expressed positive sentiment, while 40.26% (2680/6657) were negative toward menthol cigarettes. The majority of tweets by likely smokers (2653/4038, 65.70%) expressed positive sentiment, while 91.2% (320/351) of nonsmokers and 71.7% (91/127) of former smokers indicated negative views. Positive views toward menthol cigarettes were predominant in tweets that discussed addiction or craving, marijuana, smoking, taste or sensation, song lyrics, and tobacco industry or marketing or tweets that were commercial in nature. Negative views toward menthol were more common in tweets about smoking cessation, health, African Americans, women, and children and adolescents-largely due to expression of negative stereotypes associated with these groups' use of menthol cigarettes.
ConclusionsExaminations of public opinions toward menthol cigarettes through social media can help to inform the framing of public communication about menthol cigarettes, particularly in light of potential regulation by the European Union, US Food and Drug Administration, other jurisdictions, and localities.