Oral Nicotine Pouches Are Gaining Popularity While Also Raising Concerns

Nicotine Pouches

In just the last year, a relatively new nicotine product that is smokeless and sits at the gum line has attracted a wave of new users. These are oral nicotine pouches, which are almost invisible when in use and sit at the gum line.

Philip Morris International reported in February that the top brand Zyn, which debuted in the US market in 2014, shipped 350 million cans in 2023, or almost 15 pouches per can, a 62% rise over the previous year. Despite the product’s target market being adults who currently use nicotine, several researchers and health experts are concerned that the publicity may draw in a large number of new users, particularly among younger generations.

According to an email from a Philip Morris International representative, Zyn does not employ social media influencers for marketing, and the firm only posts content on Facebook and Instagram for US audiences who are 21 years of age or older. On the other hand, Zyn consumption on college campuses has increased across the country, and a new category of unofficial nicotine influencers has emerged on social media: “Zynfluencers.”

Recently, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer requested that regulators from the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission look into Zyn’s marketing tactics and potential health effects. At a news conference in January, he declared, “I’m delivering a warning to parents because these nicotine pouches seem to lock their sights on young kids — teenagers, and even lower — and then use social media to hook them.”

Do Nicotine Pouches Perform As Well As Vaping?

One well-known carcinogen that can lead to a variety of cancers is tobacco. The American Cancer Society states that smoking cigarettes is the main cause of lung cancer. Zyn offers its nicotine pouches as a substitute for tobacco use and smoking, along with other brands including Rogue, On!, and Velo.

Although using a nicotine pouch does not involve breathing chemicals like smoking cigarettes or vape pens, Kecia Christensen, a nurse practitioner at Nebraska Medicine specializing in thoracic surgery and pulmonary disease, does not currently advise using pouch products as a quitting tool.

“It’s encouraging that these businesses are working to develop nicotine alternatives unrelated to tobacco so that users can try to wean themselves off of their addiction. The issue with these kinds of items, in my opinion, is that, as a trained tobacco treatment specialist, I have to tell my patients, ‘I don’t really know for sure what’s in those things,’ until the FDA regulates them entirely.

The business claims that since 2020, Philip Morris International’s application for FDA authorization has been pending. Nonetheless, while the application is being reviewed, FDA regulators have permitted the non-tobacco nicotine product to remain on the market.

Further research on the product is necessary, but according to Christensen, if the nicotine content of the nicotine pouches is gradually reduced to a level lower than that of cigarettes or chewing tobacco, it may help reduce cravings for people who want to give up tobacco and nicotine completely.

Although the exact amounts can differ, Christensen frequently advises patients to estimate that each cigarette contains five to ten mg of nicotine, even though the amount really breathed is probably less. Different types of nicotine pouches contain different amounts of nicotine; the most typical amount is 3 or 6 milligrams per pouch, while some brands contain up to 28 milligrams.

Addiction To Nicotine And Mental Health

According to Christensen, patients who are trying to give up tobacco often become addicted to nicotine through vaping, sometimes even more so than smoking cigarettes. This is because, according to her, vapes are more user-friendly and are frequently used indoors during smoke breaks as opposed to outdoors. With a little pouch that is comparable to a piece of chewing gum and measures 0.6 by 1.1 to 1.3 inches (14 millimeters by 28 to 32 millimeters), nicotine pouches are even more covert. One may pop them into their mouth almost any place and keep others from discovering them.

Cravings and withdrawal symptoms including headaches, exhaustion, and irritability are signs of nicotine addiction. According to the National Cancer Institute, research has revealed a possible link between long-term use and heart disease, vascular illness, reproductive issues, and other conditions. The FDA states that nicotine does not cause lung illness or cancer. According to Christensen, nicotine addiction might be more difficult to overcome when the use of the drug is linked to coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, or depression.

She continued, “Nicotine addiction is really pretty tightly wrapped up with mental health.” “People most often relapse and start smoking or chewing again when something negative occurs in their lives, such as new stress, a job loss, a death in the family, or a divorce. When this happens, they either can’t handle the emotions or don’t think they can handle them without smoking.” Furthermore, Christensen said that individuals who have used nicotine throughout their teens may find it especially challenging to break the habit.

Zyn Users And Zynfluencers

Zyn does not have any official social media influencers, but there are hundreds of postings on TikTok and Instagram with the hashtag “Zynfluencer,” and there are thousands or even more posts with just “Zyn.”

“Only adults of legal age, or those over 21, should use nicotine products. In an announcement to CNN, Philip Morris International stated, “The most recent data from the FDA and the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicates that the use of juvenile nicotine pouches has stayed low while offering many adult smokers a better alternative than continuing to smoke.”

The majority of the social media audience is made up of “previous consumers of traditional oral, vaping, and cigarette products with others coming from other nicotine product categories,” according to data from Swedish Match, a tobacco company that makes Zyn and was acquired by Philip Morris International in February 2023.

The words “smoke-free,” “spit-free,” and “odor-free” are used in Zyn advertisements, and the products may be shown being used in locations where smoking or using an e-cigarette is prohibited, according to Meghan Moran, an associate professor of health, behavior, and society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Regarding the attractiveness to those under 21, the discreetness is concerning, she continued.

Young people, especially teenagers, frequently find themselves in situations like school or perhaps at home with their parents, where using a tobacco product could result in consequences. For these reasons, being discreet in a product could be very appealing to them. “When you think about young people who are not already using tobacco and who we don’t want to use tobacco,” Moran said.

Additionally, a range of flavors, such as cold mint, wintergreen, coffee, and cinnamon, are available for the Zyn nicotine pouches, which may appeal to younger consumers. According to the FDA and CDC’s 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 1.5% of middle school and high school students reported using nicotine pouches in the previous 30 days in October.

The head of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Brian King, stated in a statement that “the FDA remains concerned about any tobacco product that may appeal to youth.” “As usual, we’re determined to pursue anybody responsible for selling illicit tobacco products, particularly those that are marketed, labeled, or intended to promote underage use.”

High doses of nicotine, known as “nicotine sickness,” can make people throw up and feel ill, according to Christensen. Research from the FDA and CDC claims that items containing nicotine can also “harm the developing adolescent brain.”