Introduction Hookah smoking is becoming increasingly popular among young adults and is often perceived as less harmful than cigarette use. Prior studies show that it is common for youth and young adults to network about substance use behaviors on social media. Social media messages about hookah could influence its use among young people. We explored normalization or discouragement of hookah smoking, and other common messages about hookah on Twitter. Methods From the full stream of tweets posted on Twitter from April 12, 2014, to May 10, 2014 (approximately 14.5 billion tweets), all tweets containing the terms hookah, hooka, shisha, or sheesha were collected (n = 358,523). The hookah tweets from Twitter users (tweeters) with high influence and followers were identified (n = 39,824) and a random sample of 5,000 tweets was taken (13% of tweets with high influence and followers). The sample of tweets was qualitatively coded for normalization (ie, makes hookah smoking seem common and normal or portrays positive experiences with smoking hookah) or discouragement of hookah smoking, and other common themes using crowdsourcing. Results Approximately 87% of the sample of tweets normalized hookah use, and 7% were against hookah or discouraged its use. Nearly half (46%) of tweets that normalized hookah indicated that the tweeter was smoking hookah or wanted to smoke hookah, and 19% were advertisements/promotions for hookah bars or products. Conclusion Educational campaigns about health harms from hookah use and policy changes regarding smoke-free air laws and tobacco advertising on the Internet may be useful to help offset the influence of pro-hookah messages seen on social media.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health [grant numbers R01 DA039455, R01 DA032843, K02 DA021237, R01 DA031288].