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Digital Surveillance to Identify Alternative & Emerging Tobacco Industry Mobilization and Influence

Institution: University of California, San Diego
Investigator(s): Timothy Mackey,
Award Cycle: 2019 (Cycle 29) Grant #: T29IP0384 Award: $495,186
Subject Area: State and Local Tobacco Control Policy Research
Award Type: High Impact Pilot Award

Initial Award Abstract
The proposed project will explore the anti-tobacco policy and community advocacy activities generated between alternative and emerging tobacco actors including manufacturers, trade associations, wholesalers, vendors/retailers, and the tobacco user community as mobilized through digital technologies. Specifically, it will identify and measure how anti-policy digital assets and campaigns are created on the Internet and social media, and how they are activated and mobilized to influence the outcome and implementation of California state and local policies related to alternative and emerging tobacco regulation. Previous studies have examined retail and Internet tobacco vendors for their use of online marketing and social media engagement. During these studies, high levels of political advocacy was observed but not further studied. Hence, this study will specifically identify how digital platforms catalyze anti-policy activity and the specific strategies used by different tobacco actors to spread misleading and false information. The proposed study will conduct web surveillance, content mining, and data analysis to identify coordination of digital anti-policy campaigns. We will first compile a database of targeted industry actors comprised of manufacturers, trade associations, online vendors, distributors, and retailers actively doing business in the state of California. We will then use interdisciplinary methods in public health, computational science, and policy analysis to: (1) identify online assets (e.g. Internet pages, social media accounts, blogs, etc.) used by the industry; (2) automate collection of large volumes of data; (3) code and analyze data using machine learning for content related to advocacy activity, lobbying, and grass-roots efforts to block tobacco control bills; (4) assess the sentiment, geospatial, and networks characteristics of these activities; and (5) develop evidence to support targeted public awareness and counter marketing solutions. The proposed pilot research is responsive to all aspects of TRDRP's State and Local Tobacco Control Policy research goals. This includes generating evidence on how the ENDS industry uses now ubiquitous forms of digital technology in order to influence the outcome of CA tobacco-free policies and how they mobilize their constituent communities.