Google Trends was pretty big when it first came out, but I feel like enthusiasm for the project has died down since. I, at least, hadn’t thought about it for ages before it randomly occurred to me that taking a look at vaping search trends might be interesting. In case you’re not familiar with it, Google Trends is a service you can use to map the popularity of one or more search terms through time. Sometimes, the trends that arise are pretty informative. For instance, looking up “Haiti” will reveal a huge spike in searches in January 2010, which matches up with the date of the Haiti earthquake. Searches for vape pens apparently spike when some celebrity or other admits to using them in public. One year that was Whoopi Goldberg. The year after it was Sarah Silverman.
But yes, let’s take a look at some trends in vaping search terms. For our first graph, I mapped the search terms “electronic cigarette,” ”vaping,” and “vape pen.” A few things jump out from the resulting graph. For one thing, apparently electronic cigarettes caused a buzz long before the term “vaping” ever did. While electronic cigarettes seem to have become a topic of interest around 2009, “vaping” only started appearing in Google searches around 2013. Even more interestingly, “vaping” and “vape pen” have since overtaken searches for “electronic cigarette,” largely due to the rapidly declining popularity of “electronic cigarette” as a search term for the past year or so. I have no explanation for this trend. Perhaps electronic cigarettes are so widely known at this point that people just don’t search for “electronic cigarette” anymore. One other thing to note with this graph is that vaping really is spreading at an insane rate. Searches for “vaping” appear to have doubled in 2014 alone, which to me is nuts.
Moving on. For graph number two in our Google trends series, I looked at “vaping safety,” “vaping risks,” and “vaping formaldehyde.” The resulting graph looks pretty much exactly as you would have thought it would. The most interesting trend I see here is that both “vaping safety” and “vaping risks” reverted back to their original trajectory very rapidly after the publication of the “Hidden Formaldehyde” paper; despite the fact that the paper, published and publicized in January 2015, briefly caused searches for “vaping risks” to surge and searches for “vaping safety” to dip, both of those search terms appear to have been unaffected in the long term. Keep in mind that only four months have passed since January. Basically, what this shows me is that people are really, really quick to forget sensationalistic news. Or anything, for that matter.
Next one. This one kind of sucks, but I wanted to take a look at the balance of searches between dry herb vaporizers and nicotine e-liquid vapes on Google Trends. Due to the often legally dubious circumstances surrounding dry herb vaping, I feel like there is a sense on the internet that “vaping” more often refers to vaping e-liquid than it does to vaping dry herbs. This, however, doesn’t seem to hold up to reality. Oddly enough, the very unscientific search term “weed vape” has almost caught up with “e-cigarette” in the past year in popularity, despite the fact that “e-cigarette” seems like it would catch more of the e-cig related searched than “weed vape” would dry herb vaporizer searches. Moreover, the term “vape pen” has caught on like wildfire over the past two years. As of right now, four times more people search for “vape pen” than for “e-cigarette.” How crazy is that? Apparently people really enjoy vaping as a means of, uh, medicating.
Last one. Google Trends also provides some geographical data for its search terms, provided that they are relatively common. So here is a list of the top seven cities where people have searched for “vaping” in the past 10 years. One would think that huge cities would make the list simply by virtue of their overwhelming size, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Apparently, so little a proportion of New York City has searched for “vaping” that the city can’t even compete with the much, much smaller Austin, Texas. Also apparent is that Texans love their vaping. I’m not sure exactly what one could attribute this weird pattern to, but two of the top three cities interested in “vaping” are San Antonio and Austin. Number two is another weird one: Alexandria, VA. You might be familiar with Alexandria as the seat of a huge portion of the United States’ defense services. I will henceforth also think of it as populated predominantly by vapers. Perhaps inaccurate, but immensely entertaining. The other cities on the list are less exciting. Some industrial towns in England (Birmingham, Manchester a little lower down), Jakarta (presumably on the list because of its massive population and just as massive obsession with smoking), and a few cities along the West Coast of the United States (Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Jose).
I told you Google Trends would be fun! Okay, so maybe it didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know, but hey, this is reality. Reality is predictable. More importantly, you should probably go over to Google Trends right now and look up random words. I promise it’s fun, though I don’t know if you’ll still trust me after I took you through four graphs that didn’t show much of anything. You should, though. I just found out that “chicken” is about 2.5 times as popular as “pig.” How does that make any sense?