Are Nicotine Pouches Safe?

Nicotine pouches have made a significant market impact as a tobacco alternative since their first market appearance in the mid-2010s. They found a market in people looking for precisely that: a tobacco smoking alternative. But are nicotine pouches safe? Are they “living up” to their tag as a safer option? This should be worth investigating.

What are nicotine pouches?

Nicotine pouches are small, pillow-shaped sachets that contain nicotine salts, fillers, additives, and flavours. They are a tobacco-free, smokeless nicotine product, hence the term tobacco-smoking alternative. They usually come in different nicotine strengths and flavours.

How Are Nicotine Pouches Used?

Nicotine pouches boast convenient, discreet, clean and efficient nicotine delivery to the system of the user. The nicotine is delivered through the mouth, not by swallowing, chewing, or sucking, but by letting it sit in the mouth and allowing the nicotine to be absorbed through the mucus membrane in the gum. 

You don’t just put the pouch in the mouth and roll it like hard candy. Depending on the maker’s specifications, the pouch is tucked between the upper lip and the gum for a specified time, typically up to 20-30 minutes, to allow the nicotine to be absorbed into the body.

It is convenient and discreet because you can carry and use it anywhere, anytime, without the people around you knowing. It is not messy to use, and you get the nicotine right in your mouth. There’s no need to extract it from tobacco leaves by chewing on them or by other forms of extraction.

Who Uses Nicotine Pouches?

Nicotine pouches came into existence because tobacco smokers needed a nicotine replacement to avoid consuming cigarettes.

They are either:

  • Individuals who want their regular dose of nicotine but without smoking
  • Smokers who want to taper their tobacco consumption,
  • Smokers who want to quit tobacco smoking altogether
  • Previous smokers who are experiencing a relapse
  • People who have given up smoking and are already into nicotines from other tobacco alternatives (Snuff, Snus, Vapes, etc.)

They are not intended for people who have no history of smoking or consuming any tobacco products, especially when they are minors. It is not for starting a habit.

In the UK in 2022, smokers are still 12.9% of the population, translating to 6.4 million individuals. There has been a continuous drop in smoking through the years, but there’s no telling how many of those who gave it up have shifted to their alternatives, in which case both are markets for nicotine pouches. 

Origins and Composition of Nicotine Pouches

Nicotine pouches started in Sweden and hit the market in the mid-2010s in the UK, EU, US, and Japan. It has so far made remarkable growth in those places as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco products.

Understanding “safety” means first examining the product’s components. Materials can vary depending on the brand, but nicotine pouches are typically made of the following:

Pouch/Bag

The pouch that holds the powder substances comprises cellulose fibre, a plant-based material. It does not dissolve in the mouth; it just allows the transfer of saliva and the dissolved nicotine mix through its porous material.

Nicotine 

The nicotine used for this purpose is pharmaceutical-grade, extracted from the tobacco plant or synthesized in the lab.

Fillers

This can include microcrystalline cellulose, maltitol, and gum arabic.

pH Adjuster

For pH adjustment, sodium bicarbonate or carbonate is usually used to bring the pH to the alkaline side to increase the nicotine absorptability. It also affects the taste and stability of the product.

Flavours

As in other oral products, flavours are used to improve their taste and enhance the experience of the consumers. They can range from natural extracts to synthetic flavours. 

Humectants

The common humectants used include propylene glycol and glycerol to help maintain moisture and texture in the pouches. 

Sweeteners

Some nicotine pouches contain sweeteners like sucralose or acesulfame-K to improve taste.

Aside from nicotine, the rest of the substances in the nicotine pouch are considered fillers or excipients. They are generally regarded as inactive and safe for consumption. They only serve as bulking agents, taste enhancers, or texturizers. 

Nicotine, on the other hand, is an active substance.

What is nicotine? 

Nicotine is a nitrogen-containing chemical (alkaloid) found in tobacco leaves. It can also be synthesized in the lab. Nicotine is tobacco’s main psychoactive component, with the potential to affect a person’s mind, mood, or behaviour. It acts in a person’s nervous system by speeding up the communication between the brain and the body.

Nicotine acts as a stimulant and, at the same time, a sedative. It causes the brain to release the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), and serotonin, boosting mood, improved concentration, alertness, better focus, and mental sharpness to the user. Serotonin induces a sense of calmness and relaxation.

However, this “buzz” from nicotine is mild and short compared to the “highs” from prohibited drugs like cocaine, heroin, and others. The consumption of nicotine in itself is not illegal. It’s not because of nicotine that tobacco smoking is restricted in many places. It’s the health risks from the thousands of chemicals in tobacco, the products of combustion, and the inhalation of smoke by the users that did them in. 

Health Hazard from Nicotine

The mild and short “buzz” from nicotine is harmless and all positive by itself. Users find its use pleasurable even only while they are using it. Because of this, there is a tendency to get repeated doses until it becomes a cycle and until the person develops tolerance. This, when done often enough and at a high dosage, can lead to dependence, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms when stopped.

Aside from addiction, prolonged and regular consumption of nicotine has the following risks:

  • Cardiovascular issues 

Nicotine can raise heart rate and blood pressure. This can increase the cardiovascular risk over time.

  • Impact on pregnancy

Nicotine can cause low birth weight and preterm birth if used during pregnancy.

  • Potential mental health issues

With nicotine affecting mood and cognition, its long-term use may increase the risk of anxiety and depression.

Noteworthy is the absence on the list of the top two health issues associated with tobacco smoking:

  • Lung diseases, mainly because there’s no combustion and inhalation involved in the use of nicotine pouches
  • Cancer, as there is no evidence to suggest that nicotine causes cancer.

Side Effects of Nicotine Consumption

Not all individuals have the same reaction to different substances. Some nicotine users find the following side effects from the use of nicotine:

  • Nausea 
  • Hiccups
  • Irregular & disturbed sleep
  • Bad dreams & nightmares
  • Heartburn

Nicotine Pouch and Nicotine Delivery Systems

We examined the components of the nicotine pouch to determine whether they are safe. Now, let’s look at its nicotine delivery mechanism.

Delivery Evolution to Nicotine Pouch

People in the 1400s discovered smoking tobacco could make them feel good, and that was enough reason for people to follow suit. It became so popular that some enterprising groups decided to make a business out of its improved version, the cigarettes. 

The cigarette industry became so significant and its market extensive that it did not take long before its effect on the health of the population started to be felt – respiratory illnesses, cardiac diseases, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

By the late 1900s, people had started looking for alternatives to tobacco smoking – chewed or sniffed tobacco, nicotine smoking – all to fill the gap after smoking tobacco was deemed unhealthy by many.

The trust was to deliver nicotine to the body by whatever means possible as long as it is better than tobacco smoking. 

And then nicotine pouches happened. 

Cigarette vs Nicotine Pouch’s Delivery 

Compared to the cigarette, the nicotine pouch delivery mechanism:

  • does not involve tobacco with all the toxic substances it contains
  • does not involve combustion
  • does not involve inhalation of smoke that brings the toxic substances into and through the person’s respiratory system 
  • involves direct delivery of pure nicotine to the bloodstream through the mucus membrane in the mouth 

It’s a no-fuss delivery system. So where can this type of delivery system go wrong? Oral health? Let’s see. 

Effects of Nicotine Pouch on Oral Health

The nicotine pouch in the mouth directly touches the upper lip and gum. The rest of the mouth probably gets some of the dissolved nicotine in the saliva. 

What can go wrong there? Mouth irritation? 

Mouth Irritation can come from physical irritation from the pouch and irritations from nicotine. 

Preventive Steps to Avoid Mouth Irritation

  • Rotate the placement/Switch sides

Avoid placing the pouch in the same spot all the time. Switch sides regularly to avoid irritation. 

  • Use smaller pouches

Nicotine pouches come in different sizes depending on the brand. The bigger the pouch, the bigger the risk of irritation. Choose one that fits you perfectly.

  • Stay hydrated

Drink water before use to moisten the mouth and avoid irritation. The pouch’s presence in the mouth may stimulate salivation. If that is the case for you, well and good.

  • Take breaks

You may be overdoing it. Lengthen the intervals between use if they’re causing you irritation.  

  • Use lower nicotine strength.

If you have high sensitivity to nicotine, try lowering the strength. Various strengths are available anyway. 

  • Practice good oral hygiene.

Brush your teeth, floss, and rinse your mouth regularly. An unhealthy mouth makes it more sensitive to chemicals like nicotine

  • Visit your dentist regularly

Dentists are there to help us care for our mouths and use their services.

Are nicotine pouches a safe approach to quitting smoking cigarettes? 

In the UK, around sixty per cent (60%) of smokers want to quit. This is one market concern that the nicotine pouch aims to help address. Is it a suitable product for smoking cessation?

This use of nicotine pouches involves providing the user with a controlled dose of nicotine to help manage the withdrawal symptoms from tobacco smoking until such time that he gets weaned from it. 

Can the nicotine dose using nicotine pouches be controlled?  

Nicotine pouches come in different strengths. You can experiment with what strength is suitable for you. The user can also control the frequency of use.

Theoretically, a nicotine pouch can be used to help smokers in tobacco reduction or cessation cases. But this requires self-control, so if you find it challenging to do it on your own, seek the help of medical professionals.  

Other quitting products

Other tobacco smoking quitting products include:

  • Nicotine gum
  • Nicotine patch
  • Nicotine lozenges
  • Snus
  • Snuff
  • Vape 
  • Dip

These products differ in the nicotine delivery system and a person’s body. 

Conclusion

Is nicotine pouch safe? 

Only one ingredient in the pouch is active: nicotine; the rest are excipients. While nicotine itself is not inherently harmful, it is addictive, which underscores the importance of using nicotine pouches in moderation.

Its delivery system is more straightforward and much safer than tobacco smoking.

Nicotine Pouch is not 100% safe, but its claim of being safer than tobacco smoking is true. 

Snuzzer

For more information and a supply of top-quality nicotine pouches, visit Snuzzer. We have an array of nicotine pouches from which to choose.

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