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This study is the first to investigate marketing characteristics of vape shops located in different ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles, by conducting a Yelp electronic search and content analysis of consumer reports on vape shops they have visited. The primary measure was Yelp reviews (N = 103 vape shops in the Los Angeles, California area), which were retrieved and content coded. We compared the attributes of vape shops representing four ethnic communities: African American, Hispanic/Latino, Korean, and White.
Vape shop attributes listed as most important were the selection of flavors or hardware (95%), fair prices (92%), and unique flavors or hardware (89%). Important staff marketing attributes included being friendly (99%), helpful/patient/respectful (97%), and knowledgeable/professional (95%). Over one-half of the shops were rated as clean (52%) and relaxed (61%). Relatively few of the reviews mentioned quitting smoking (32%) or safety of e-cigarettes (15%). The selection of flavors and hardware appeared relatively important in Korean ethnic location vape shops.
E-cigarettes can be purchased in tobacco retail environments, vape shops, and on the Internet . Rather little is known regarding sales of e-cigarettes across types of retail establishments, but e-cigarettes are becoming ubiquitous in convenience stores, liquor stores, and pharmacies , and highly visible e-cigarette ads and self-service displays are present in nearly one-third of stores that sell e-cigarettes.
Currently, there are no empirical research articles on vape shops. The present study uses a Yelp consumer review search to explore the vape shop environment. These reviews offer insights into the products and services provided by these shops, as well as the types of products, services, staff, and amenities that customers value. This study pertains to several Center for Tobacco Products, FDA Research Priorities (#s 1 [components of e-cigarettes], 3 [consumer use behavior], 4 [consumer attitudes and beliefs, marketing influences], 20 [perceived lowering of product toxicity and behavior], 39 [nature of discussions in social networking sites, subpopulation differences], 40 [communication channels vulnerable populations may use], 49 [price promotions impact], and 51 [vulnerable populations attitudes and beliefs]; see ; accessed 6-13-2014).
Using the names of neighborhoods/cities located (e.g., Koreatown, Exposition Park, Commerce, Hermosa Beach), Yelp was then searched using that neighborhood/city term. Only shops that were reviewed by at least five reviewers were coded; this resulted in a sample of 103 vape shops. Coders were instructed to code the most recent reviews, up to 20 of them for each shop, to try to capture the least biased reviews .
Importance of great flavors and hardware selection were the most prevalent characteristics reviewers identified in the shops (regardless of ethnicity location), which is not surprising as these are the featured objects provided within vape shops . Person-to-person marketing influences tended to operate across all vape shops. As examples, staff members were frequently described as friendly, helpful/patient/respectful, and knowledgeable/professional across ethnic communities. There were more similarities than differences in vape shops across ethnic communities. However, some differences did emerge. Reviews of vape shops in Korean neighborhoods were relatively more likely to mention great flavors and hardware selection, fair prices, online store capability, wide range of nicotine, helpful/patient/respectful staff, knowledgeable/professional staff, and fun atmosphere. Reviews of vape shops in Hispanic neighborhoods were relatively more likely to mention unique flavors or hardware and relatively less likely to mention helpful/patient/respectful staff, and awesome, chic/classy, or fun environment. Reviews of vape shops in White neighborhoods were relatively more likely to mention knowledgeable/professional staff, bar-type atmosphere, and chic/classy atmosphere and relatively less likely to mention great flavor or hardware selection, fair prices, and online store capability. Reviews of vape shops in African American neighborhoods were relatively more likely to mention online store capability, helpful/patient/respectful staff, and awesome atmosphere. One may speculate that vape shop physical environment characteristics that appeal to different segments of consumers will keep these consumers in the shop for a longer period, facilitate instruction on hardware and use, and lead to initial or maintenance of addiction to nicotine.
Possibly contrary to some work on e-cigarettes , relatively few reviews mentioned health safety or quitting cigarettes as being intrinsic to the vape shop function. We did not detect a head-shop, medical marijuana, or alcohol related context through these reviews. That is, assuming the reviews are valid, it would appear that vape shops in general do not represent environments that actively promote public health (e.g., quitting combustible cigarette smoking) or encourage other risky behaviors (e.g., such as marijuana use). These are shops that focus specifically on the promotion of e-cigarette use as an activity of enjoyment and relaxation.
The present Yelp review was the first of a two-stage study on vape shops, used to develop our sample and refine measurement of the vape shop environment. In the second stage, we will travel to the shops that were reviewed by Yelp, interview store personnel, and observe products available at the shops. We will be able to examine convergent validity with these reviews, and better learn about potential ethnicity location differences and environmental influences on e-cigarette use within and nearby vape shops.
As mentioned in the Introduction, use of Yelp is not without limitations. Yelp is capturing e-cigarette consumers who are already motivated to vape. This may explain in part why reviews tended to be rather positive overall. This study did not directly compare negative with positive reviews, though perhaps another research design that preselected positively and negatively (e.g., five star versus one star) reviewed shops could be considered in future work. The shops are located in areas that are relatively high in a particular ethnicity. This arrangement has its limitations as a means of studying ethnic variations pertaining to vape shops. We do not know the ethnicity of the employees or customers. For the Korean and African American locations, the percentage of those ethnicities is not a majority in those areas, only relatively high compared to other areas in southern California. Future research should involve observations of these shops and products, and interviewing employees, to learn more about this environmental context.
These data do not provide much data for potential regulation of vape shops; that would stem from traveling to the vape shops and engaging in the interviews. These data do provide what we believe are rich data that may be used to inform FDA public education campaigns. We suggest that messages they might design could focus on caution regarding flavor and hardware selection, potential harms on health, and raising awareness of physical environmental-level marketing influences that the e-cigarette industry employs -- that give potential consumers the perception that e-cigarette use is somehow relatively less harmful and addictive, or more fun. Just as health education and media literacy campaigns were able to teach the public that the tobacco industry exists to make money from smokers and is not necessarily a credible source of health information, perhaps health education messages about vape shops could emphasize that the fun, friendly vape shop owner is also a salesperson rather than a health expert. 041b061a72