You’re likely familiar with the dangers of vaping, especially among youth. Juul and other electronic cigarettes came onto the market purportedly to help adult cigarette smokers kick the habit. Instead, they’ve introduced nicotine to a new generation of non-smoking teens—thus creating our country’s current youth vaping epidemic. With vaping under fire, it’s no surprise that multinational corporations are finding new ways to profit from others’ addictions.
Have you heard of nicotine pouches? If you haven’t, now’s the time to learn about them and share the risks with your students, because these tiny pouches have all the makings to become the next big problem.
Nicotine pouches are pre-portioned, little, white sacks filled with a crystal-like substance that contain nicotine but not tobacco. The user puts the pouch between the lip and gums, just like chewing tobacco, which is also known as dip or snus. The user’s saliva then mixes to create a nicotine “juice” that is meant to be swallowed.
This product is promoted as discreet, fresh, and able to be conveniently enjoyed at any time—because there is no smoke, no smell, no need to spit, and no refrigeration required. One website even reassures the potential user that there is no need to worry, because the only person who will know you are enjoying your nicotine pouch is you.
Pouches are sold in different strengths of nicotine and come in a variety of flavors, including black cherry, cinnamon, citrus, coffee, dragon fruit, peppermint, spearmint and wintergreen. Plus, they say they won’t stain your teeth and are billed as gluten-free.
The Effects of Nicotine on Youth
These pouches and the flavors they come in are certainly enticing to young people. Unlike vaping, no smoke passes through the airways and into the lungs when using these pouches. However, nicotine is nicotine, no matter how you package it, and the dangers of this substance go beyond the airways.
Nicotine is a highly addictive drug that raises blood pressure, causes adrenaline to spike, increases heart rate, and elevates one’s likelihood for a heart attack. Youth are even more susceptible to nicotine’s negative effects and become dependent on this drug more rapidly than adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain. The brain keeps developing until about age 25.
- Using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.
- Each time our brains create a new memory or learn a new skill, stronger connections—or synapses—are built between brain cells. Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Nicotine changes the way these synapses are formed.
- Using nicotine in adolescence may also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs.
Just as one harmful product is brought to light, another harmful product seems to emerge from the darkness to take its place. While we may not be aware of every single nicotine product out there to specifically warn young people about, what we can do is to talk with them about the dangers of this substance in any form, tell them to steer clear of it, and of course step in and seek help if we suspect or know a student is using nicotine products.