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Scientists turn to social media to study drug abuse

By Jeckonia Otieno | January 30th 2017

NAIROBI, KENYA: Scientists have urged for the use of social media to study the trends of drug and substance use to help in formulation of policies on the same.

This comes after a study conducted in the US over increased use of water-pipe commonly referred to as shisha.

The use of shisha also known as hookah has gained popularity in Kenya in the past few years and a research now states that use of shisha has increased and Instagram is promoting it further.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of South Carolina and published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco. The researchers were led by Jon-Patrick Allem.

The use of social media in promoting shisha is also rife and one of the reasons identified for increasing use.

"As water-pipe use rapidly grows in popularity, novel data streams are needed that can help capture and document the social and environmental context in which individuals use, and are marketed, this emerging tobacco product," the researchers pointed out.

During the study, posts with #hookah were studied alongside the location where they had been taken; a total of 1,705 images were studied.

And the results found that seven per cent of images showed a person using the water-pipe or blowing smoke or doing both while one out of four images (25 per cent) showed more than one person in lounges or smoking shisha or doing both while six per cent of the images showed water-pipes, coals or flavored tobacco without people.

Lounges, restaurants, bars and nightclubs where shisha are smoked were promoted in 18 per cent of the images with reference made to hookah or the water-pipe. Even without water-pipe being in the picture, 25 per cent of the images still promoted the use of shisha.

One per cent of all the images had sexually explicit content. The same study found that 31 per cent of the images studied made reference to alcohol. Three out every ten posts showed traced the location of the person posting back to a shisha lounge while 56 per cent were traced back to a either a restaurant, bar or nightclub. 14 per cent of the posts were traced to other locations apart from these.

The researchers therefore found that substance use is being promoted on social media thus normalising it.

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