What Does It Meme? A Qualitative Analysis Of Adolescents’ Perceptions Of Tobacco And Marijuana Messaging

Jessica Liu

This thesis is restricted to Yale network users only. It will be made publicly available on 08/28/2021


With increasing popularity of e-cigarettes and legalization of marijuana, messaging from online sites and platforms are shaping product perceptions and use. Quantitative studies have examined social media statistics of posts; however, there is a lack of research explaining the aesthetic appeal of these advertisements from the adolescents and young adults (AYA) perspective.

Twenty-four participants were recruited from a larger study of adolescents' perceptions and tobacco use (N=772 high school students). Participants were grouped by whether or not they had used tobacco or marijuana products before, with N=8 non-users and N=16 users. Data were collected through individual semi-structured interviews, where participants were asked about their experiences with tobacco and marijuana advertisements online. Interview protocols were developed to understand appeal of advertisements and to learn about the nuances of social media. Interviews were recorded and transcribed.

Key themes emerged from the interviews: (1) Interactions with Online Platforms and Social Media, (2) Direct Appeal of Advertisements to AYA, (3) Trusting Source of Messaging, and (4) Attitudes and Agency. These findings suggest the need to continue to incorporate personal empowerment and understanding AYA’s role of spreading information through social media in prevention curricula, as well as increased regulation around social media messaging around tobacco and marijuana. Although this study aimed to understand online influences, the influences of personal agency and peers were still major factors in tobacco and marijuana decision-making.