Is social media our new quitline? A descriptive study assessing youtube coverage of tobacco cessation


smoking cessation
quit smoking
social media
health education
health communication


Background Tobacco use and exposure continue to be leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In the past decade, educational efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure have extended to social media, including video-sharing platforms. YouTube is one of the most publicly accessed video-sharing platforms. Despite the public health importance of tobacco use and exposure as preventable causes of morbidity and mortality, and the increasing use of social media as a way consumers access health-related information, few studies have explored this topic.

Purpose This cross-sectional descriptive study was conducted to identify and describe sources, formats, and content of widely viewed YouTube videos on smoking cessation.

Methods In August to September 2023, using a cleared browser, the keywords “stop quit smoking” were used to search in YouTube and identify 100 videos with the highest view count.

Results Collectively, these videos were viewed over 220 million times. The majority (n = 35) were posted by nongovernmental/organization sources, with a smaller number posted by consumers (n = 25), and only eleven were posted by governmental agencies. The median length of the 100 videos was 5.17 minutes; interquartile range was 2.52 -11.40 minutes. The format used in the highest number of videos was the testimonial (n = 32 videos, over 77 million views). Other popular formats included animation (n = 23 videos, over 90 million views) and talk by professional (n = 20 videos, almost 43 million views). Video content included evidence-based and non-evidence-based practices. Evidence-based strategies aligned with U.S. Public Health Service Tobacco Treatment Guidelines and included seeking support from the health system in tobacco treatment and using Nicotine Replacement Therapy products. Strategies warranting further evaluation but not currently recommended by official governmental agencies included mindfulness and hypnotherapy. One most important finding was that environmental tobacco exposure received scant coverage across the videos.

Conclusions Environmental exposure presents significant risks for acute and chronic diseases for both smokers and nonsmokers, and specific risks for children and pregnant women, and this requires further investigation. Education for individuals, families and communities on tobacco cessation can help people achieve cessation. Social media such as YouTube promises to reach large audiences at low cost without requiring high reading literacy. Additional attention is needed to create videos with up-to-date, accurate information that can engage consumers.


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