Archive for Marijuana

Assessing Public Opinion via Twitter: Marijuana versus Cigarettes

Recently, we presented Twitter data that shows a divergence in public opinion (or at least in the Twitter-sphere) in regards to traditional and e-cigarettes.  Today, we present similar sentiment, data but this time we compare Twitter chatter sentiment for marijuana relative to cigarettes.

The figure below shows a divergence in views about cigarettes and marijuana.  Over the last year, Twitter sentiment has been more positive towards marijuana than traditional cigarettes each and every week (sentiment analysis basically compares the number of positive tweets to the number of negative tweets on a given topic).

Our unofficial mission at the Emory Marketing and Public Policy blog is to utilize marketing theory and data to understand public policy debates.  In the case of public perception regarding marijuana and cigarettes, the preceding analysis is interesting in several respects.

First, from a historical perspective, the decline in attitudes towards and usage of cigarettes is fairly amazing.  Sixty years ago, cigarettes were endorsed by doctors and considered a mainstream product.  Now, after several decades of counter-marketing, public opinion is strongly negative, and usage rates are down to about 20% of the population.  In contrast, Twitter opinion towards marijuana is fairly positive, despite the efforts of law enforcement to reduce consumption.  An obvious conclusion is that using marketing tools seems to be a more effective approach than using the police, courts and prisons.

Second, for the public health community these results may be both encouraging and discouraging.  The negative results for cigarettes do suggest that the public relations battle against big tobacco has largely been won.  However, the positive view of marijuana may suggest that the publicity related to “medical” marijuana may be causing a shift in opinion regarding the dangers of marijuana use.  We should note that we realize that we are only reporting public opinion data, rather than advancing an opinion about the health consequences of tobacco, e-cigarettes or marijuana.

Third, for marijuana legalization advocates, the preceding data does suggest that the public is becoming less concerned about this drug.  In a strange turn of events, it seems possible that we may see some countries such as Australia banning tobacco cigarettes while marijuana becomes legal or decriminalized in other countries.  Again, we would like to point out that these trends really highlight the power of the counter-marketing campaign conducted against cigarettes over the past several decades.

Finally, we suspect that many folks will react to the preceding data with complaints that Twitter does not provide an accurate reflection of public sentiment.  Twitter users are too young or otherwise different from the general populace to use Twitter data as a measure of public opinion.  Our immediate answer to this is that we are not sure.  Any public polling organization realizes that it is difficult to create a representative sample (how many of you answer telephone surveys?).  And while Twitter has some real drawbacks, it is also true that Twitter traffic is largely organic and unregulated.  In other words, the Twitter segment maybe a bit different, but we suspect that the opinions expressed are honest and deeply held.

Emory Marketing & Public Policy Analytics, Emory University 2013.