• Intersection of the Web-Based Vaping Narrative With COVID-19: Topic Modeling Study

      Janmohamed, Kamila; Soale, Abdul-Nasah; Forastiere, Laura; Tang, Weiming; Sha, Yongjie; Demant, Jakob; Airoldi, Edoardo; Kumar, Navin; Soale|0000-0003-2093-7645; Airoldi|0000-0002-3512-0542 (2020-10-30)
      Background: The COVID-19 outbreak was designated a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. The relationship between vaping and contracting COVID-19 is unclear, and information on the internet is conflicting. There is some scientific evidence that vaping cannabidiol (CBD), an active ingredient in cannabis that is obtained from the hemp plant, or other substances is associated with more severe manifestations of COVID-19. However, there is also inaccurate information that vaping can aid COVID-19 treatment, as well as expert opinion that CBD, possibly administered through vaping, can mitigate COVID-19 symptoms. Thus, it is necessary to study the spread of inaccurate information to better understand how to promote scientific knowledge and curb inaccurate information, which is critical to the health of vapers. Inaccurate information about vaping and COVID-19 may affect COVID-19 treatment outcomes. Objective: Using structural topic modeling, we aimed to map temporal trends in the web-based vaping narrative (a large data set comprising web-based vaping chatter from several sources) to indicate how the narrative changed from before to during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: We obtained data using a textual query that scanned a data pool of approximately 200,000 different domains (4,027,172 documents and 361,100,284 words) such as public internet forums, blogs, and social media, from August 1, 2019, to April 21, 2020. We then used structural topic modeling to understand changes in word prevalence and semantic structures within topics around vaping before and after December 31, 2019, when COVID-19 was reported to the World Health Organization. Results: Broadly, the web-based vaping narrative can be organized into the following groups or archetypes: harms from vaping; Vaping Regulation; Vaping as Harm Reduction or Treatment; and Vaping Lifestyle. Three archetypes were observed prior to the emergence of COVID-19; however, four archetypes were identified post–COVID-19 (Vaping as Harm Reduction or Treatment was the additional archetype). A topic related to CBD product preference emerged after COVID-19 was first reported, which may be related to the use of CBD by vapers as a COVID-19 treatment. Conclusions: Our main finding is the emergence of a vape-administered CBD treatment narrative around COVID-19 when comparing the web-based vaping narratives before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. These results are key to understanding how vapers respond to inaccurate information about COVID-19, optimizing treatment of vapers who contract COVID-19, and possibly minimizing instances of inaccurate information. The findings have implications for the management of COVID-19 among vapers and the monitoring of web-based content pertinent to tobacco to develop targeted interventions to manage COVID-19 among vapers.