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Recent Trends in E-Cigarette Usage



Since the initial release of JUUL e-cigarette in 2015, the E-cigarette and vaporizer industry has swept across college campuses, residential neighborhoods and practically any setting with significant teenage populations, instigating a trend a of usage amongst teenagers and adults (StudyBreaks). The vaporizer industry is interesting to examine in a networks context, since the e-cig is a prime example of a product that has both inherent “value” to its users, as well as a variable value based on the number of people currently using the product. E-cig products that use tobacco or forms of other drugs are inherently “valuable” to the people that use them in their effect on their physical and psychological state, be it “getting high”, relaxation, increased perception, mitigation of withdrawal symptoms, etc. However, many e-cig product users also choose to use primarily in social settings as a means to socialize with friends and strangers. The value in this case comes from being a common activity that members can partake in to pass time, have fun, and become closer. This benefit is a function of the fraction of the population that already uses e-cigarettes. In the case of a single person deciding to become a user, the variable value is better represented by the fraction of the person’s friends and potential friends that already use the product. These two effects together can be useful in understanding the spread of the vaping trend.


In the case of a single person deciding to start using e-cigarette products, several factors inherent to the structure of their friend network can be useful in understanding their decision. The payoff that they would receive from using would likely be correlated to the product of their inherent value and the fraction of their friends already using. As we discussed in class, for such a network, it is possible to find a threshold “q” that determines whether a person will decide to switch to an option A, from their current option B. This threshold is given by dividing the payoff for choosing B by the sum of A’s payoff and B’s payoff. Yet determining reasonable values for A’s and B’s payoffs proves to be a much more difficult task. Firstly, every individual has their own inherent and variable values for using, which follows the idea of “heterogenous thresholds”: every “node” of the networks would have its own q-value. Moreover, the payoffs of vaping are tied to a notion that is much more difficult to quantify: intrinsic morals. Some people may view vaping as a “bad” thing for their health, or because it goes against their personal ideals of behavior. Yet some may consider it valuable for the resulting membership status in the “club” of users. Growing in popularity is the notion of local meetups and conventions in which users meet to discuss issues, products, etc. (StudyBreak).


The wide variability in people’s intrinsic valuations for these effects hints that a complete cascade in a large population would be virtually impossible due to the inevitable existence of a number of people with unusually high thresholds. Nevertheless, in the context of a single group of friends, perhaps the friend network of a freshman college student, the likelihood of a complete cascade increases. The majority student’s immediate friends would likely be students of the same college, with similar interests and values. Thus, the initial adoption of one user could easily influence the decision of another. This principle is useful in understanding why settings such as high schools and universities are such fertile grounds for the creation of cascades which lead to large groups of people that choose to use e-cigarettes.


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