Minnesota Uses TikTok to Stop Teens Vaping Amid Reports of E-Cig Dependency

The Minnesota Department of Health is turning to social media app TikTok in an attempt to encourage teens to quit vaping.

The department has joined forces with popular TikToker and family physician Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, who has almost 1 million followers on the platform and shares information and resources on how young people can quit, according to KEYC News.

Leslie regularly shares medical facts and information on TikTok, often focusing on vaping. The doctor has previously shared content from the department including information on its My Life, My Quit program, which offers anonymous help to teens wanting to quit.

"I have been creating content with the Minnesota Department of Health to help promote health behavior change regarding vaping and share impactful resources like My Life, My Quit. I am proud to partner with them. They are such a committed organization and I truly stand behind their efforts," Leslie told Newsweek.

"I have a history of communicating with my followers about vaping prevention and cessation, so it's a natural partnership. Right now I am solely partnering with MDH for the TikTok campaign, and we'll see what future efforts may look like."

Despite rates of traditional smoking declining among young people in recent years, e-cigarettes continue to be popular. According to the 2020 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, 19.3 percent of high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

According to research in the Tobacco Control journal, TikTok videos often show vaping in a positive light. Clips sometimes focus on "trendy" vape pens, such as the popular Geek Bars.

Leslie said: "Many teens vape in social settings or as a way to cope with stress and may have heard inaccurate messaging that vaping isn't harmful. What many may not realize is that nicotine use can have lasting effects since their brains are still developing. This can permanently impact learning, memory, attention and mood."

According to the Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, 70.4 percent of those who used e-cigarettes had reported signs of dependency. About 33.6 percent of Minnesota teens who use e-cigarettes are using them frequently, the study found, nearly double the figure in 2017.

TikTok is a natural fit for a campaign to convince them to quit—an estimated 25 percent of the app's users are aged between 10 and 19. "Sharing health videos on TikTok is about meeting teens where they are at," said Leslie.

Jen Cash, tobacco prevention and control program manager at the Minnesota Department of Health, told Newsweek: "TikTok continues to grow in popularity for the teen audience, and we wanted to meet them where they are to get them information and tools that might be helpful.

"Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, a family medicine physician at Allina Health in Minnesota, has clout with the teenage audience and is known for breaking down health information in an approachable way. She was previously named one of TikTok's 'most impactful creators' as shown by entertaining and informational content."

Cash added: "Teens are a challenging audience to reach. They are sophisticated consumers of social media, and we're finding that credible and trusted influencers on TikTok are cutting through the noise. Since we started partnering with Dr. Leslie in June, nearly a quarter of the web traffic to My Life, My Quit is coming from TikTok.

"It's clear teens are seeing Dr. Leslie's content and are interested in these services."

There is hope, however: 57.3 percent of students in the Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey said they intended to quit using all tobacco products in the next 30 days or later.

"Going through that process may seem daunting," said Leslie. "This campaign was a way to improve access to credible information on vaping and share resources to those hoping to quit."

Update 11/12/2021, 4:00 a.m. ET: This article was updated to add comments from Dr. Rose Marie Leslie and the Minnesota Department of Health.