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Are Zyn and other nicotine pouches safe?

These products have gained traction on platforms like TikTok, where "zynfluencers" showcase their daily use. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

In a recent statement, Senator Chuck Schumer raised concerns about the popular nicotine product Zyn, dubbing it a "pouch packed with problems" and urging a federal investigation into its marketing strategies and health implications.

You might not be familiar with Zyn or its counterparts like On!, VELO, and Rogue, but sales of these smoke-free nicotine pouches have surged from 126 million units between August and December 2019 to over 808 million between January and March 2022.


In a significant move in 2022, tobacco giant Philip Morris International made a substantial investment in Zyn by acquiring its parent company Swedish Match, as part of its venture into smokeless products. Zyn and similar oral nicotine offerings are projected to generate $2 billion in revenue in the United States this year.

Senator Chuck Schumer raised concerns about the popular nicotine product Zyn, dubbing it a "pouch packed with problems". (CREDIT: Ron Adar / M10s / MEGA / Newscom/RAAST/Newscom)

These products have gained traction on platforms like TikTok, where "zynfluencers" showcase their daily use, discreetly placing a pouch in their upper lip during various activities such as school, work, or workouts, or even during leisure activities like video gaming and taste-testing sessions with friends.


Available in 3 mg and 6 mg doses, these pouches deliver nicotine directly into the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth, bypassing the lungs. Unlike traditional nicotine products, they do not contain tobacco leaves, resulting in fewer carcinogens.

However, they are not without risks, as they can lead to addiction and potentially cause cardiovascular issues, gum damage, and nausea.


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Experts also express concerns about their concealability and the wide range of flavors available, including peppermint, coffee, and citrus, which may appeal to younger consumers.

Tory Spindle, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, notes, "These brands really emphasize flavors, and all of the pouches have catchy one-syllable names. It almost seems like they're trying to make them come off more like gum rather than an actual nicotine product."


Meghan Moran, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, echoes these concerns, stating, "Something that concerns us are claims about the product being discrete. We are worried that this could be appealing to young people—and we are currently conducting a study to find out if this is the case."

When asked about his initial interest in nicotine pouches as a researcher, Spindle remarked, "I saw a lot of parallels between e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches. They seem like they have a lot of flavors that would make them appealing to youth, but the harm with youth using nicotine products is there are unknowns with their long-term effects, and it also could lead to other product use. But on the other hand, they're unquestionably safer than existing tobacco products."


Regarding the long-term effects of these products, Spindle explains, "The pouches have flavorings and other constituents in there that haven't historically been in nicotine products before. So while they don't have the conventional carcinogens we know are present at high levels in tobacco, we don't know what some of the other things are going to do."

He also raises concerns about the impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development, stating, "When people are using any drug when they're still in adolescence, their brain is still developing. Use of nicotine or other addictive things can impact your brain development in ways that are hard to predict."

Spindle further discusses the safety of nicotine pouches, noting, "We do know from my research that they can cause acute adverse events. Some people report nausea. Some people have reported developing mouth lesions from using them too much. But it's undeniable that they have fewer conventional carcinogens compared to oral tobacco products."


Addressing claims of nicotine pouches as stimulants, Spindle acknowledges, "There are studies showing that nicotine is a stimulant and can boost cognitive functioning. There is some truth to that. But do you want young people who otherwise wouldn't use a tobacco product to be using it for that purpose over another stimulant with less abuse potential and issues—caffeine, for example?"

In the U.S., Zyn is available in flavors including mint, cinnamon, coffee and citrus. (CREDIT: Bing Guan/Bloomberg News)

Regarding differences among brands, Spindle explains, "Not all of them are actually tobacco-free. Some of them contain tobacco-derived nicotine. There are trace components of tobacco-specific nitrosamines and things that are harmful, but it's still much, much lower than chewing tobacco, for example. Then there are other pouches that contain synthetically made nicotine, which is made in the lab and is not derived from tobacco."


Researchers conclude that, while nicotine pouches offer a potentially safer alternative to traditional tobacco products, they are not without risks, particularly concerning their appeal to young consumers and the long-term effects of their ingredients. Further research and regulatory scrutiny are necessary to fully understand and address these concerns.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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