The short answer to this is absolutely not. Nicotine pouches are certainly not worse than smoking. Smoking is considerably more dangerous and harmful than nicotine pouches. The most dangerous part of smoking involves the inhalation of smoke into the lungs, which is associated with a long list of health risks. Since nicotine pouches do not involve combustion or inhalation, this issue is avoided. The question of the health effects of nicotine pouches is solely related to the health effects of nicotine. And whilst nicotine does have some health effects, studies are clear that their effects are nowhere near as harmful as smoking.
Nicotine pouches have surged in popularity as a modern nicotine alternative that is free from tobacco and combustion and offers a less harmful means of nicotine consumption. Since nicotine pouches are a relatively novel product, there is a lot of confusion about how these products actually work and their potential effects.
This naturally begs the question of whether nicotine pouches are worse than smoking, which is the question we are going to focus on in this article.
Nicotine pouches are small, discreet pouches that contain nicotine, plant fiber, nicotine, and flavoring, as well as other food-grade ingredients. They are intended to be placed under the lip where they release nicotine into the bloodstream.
Nicotine pouches are growing in popularity primarily due to their risk-reduction properties compared to other nicotine products, but also due to their discreetness and convenience.
In recent years, the global market for nicotine pouches has experienced exponential growth. Consumers, including both former smokers and those who have never smoked, are turning to these pouches as a potentially less harmful alternative.
The absorption of nicotine through the oral mucosa offers a direct route to the bloodstream compared to traditional smoking. This method allows for a quicker delivery of nicotine as well as a steady nicotine delivery for up to 60 minutes.
Comparing the nicotine delivery of pouches to smoking is important in assessing their potential harm. Nicotine pouches aim to provide a similar experience without the harmful byproducts of combustion, which is the most harmful aspect of smoking.
Health Concerns with Smoking
It is well established that smoking has detrimental consequences for our health and is associated with a long list of health consequences. Governments around the world are working hard to regulate and restrict smoking to improve public health and the health consequences associated with smoking.
Lung Cancer and Respiratory Issues
Smoking is linked to a myriad of health risks and lung cancer is one of the most well-established consequences. The inhalation of carcinogenic substances in tobacco smoke significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer. Moreover, smoking is a primary cause of various respiratory issues, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, and emphysema.
The impact of smoking extends beyond the respiratory system and there is a direct correlation to cardiovascular diseases. Smoking contributes to the development of conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and strokes. The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage blood vessels, elevate blood pressure, and accelerate the progression of atherosclerosis.
Other Health Complications
Smoking is implicated in a range of health complications, including but not limited to cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, and bladder. It also adversely affects reproductive health, increasing the risk of infertility and complications during pregnancy. Furthermore, smoking accelerates the aging process of the skin and is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Nicotine Content and Addiction Potential
While nicotine pouches provide an alternative means of nicotine delivery, they do contain nicotine just like cigarettes. Nicotine is an addictive substance which leads to dependence.
Impact on Respiratory and Cardiovascular Health
Unlike smoking, which involves inhaling tar and numerous harmful chemicals, nicotine pouches deliver nicotine without the associated combustion-related byproducts. For that reason, nicotine pouches do not affect the lungs in any way, which is the main culprit of smoking.
Thankfully, there are a handful of studies that have compared the health effects of smoking and nicotine pouches which gives a better understanding of how nicotine pouches are a much less harmful alternative.
For example, according to Nature, ”Nicotine pouches are likely to be a substantially ‘lower-risk product’ as compared to tobacco smoking.” (Source)
Moreover, according to MedicalNewsToday: ”In theory, nicotine pouches are less harmful than burning and inhaling tobacco. Nicotine is highly addictive, but it is the other chemicals in tobacco that increase a person’s risk of cancers, lung problems, and heart disease.” (Source)
In addition, a 7-year study fund that snus may help people move away from smoking which is positive. (Source). Nicotine, whilst not officially a smoking cessation aid, can be extremely valuable for people to transition to less harmful nicotine alternatives and improve public health.
These are just some of the many studies that have compared nicotine pouches with smoking and found that they are indeed a much less harmful alternative. Most importantly, the true health risks are associated with the inhalation of smoke, and nicotine pouches eliminate this risk.
Whilst nicotine pouches are without a doubt less harmful than cigarettes, they contain nicotine.
Moreover, because nicotine pouches are a relatively new product, some countries are somewhat skeptical to allowing new nicotine pouches on the market in fear of increasing the total nicotine use rather than helping improve public health. At the same time, Sweden, which is the country with the highest number of snus and nicotine pouch users in the world, proves that this fear is without grounds. The fact that Sweden has the lowest rate of smokers in the European Union and is set to become the world’s first smoke-free country is attributed much thanks to this. With that said, Sweden is the perfect example of a harm-reduction approach and how this can ultimately reduce the number of smokers.
That said, some countries have decided to ban nicotine pouches due to fear and without factual grounds. This is sad for general public health and hopefully something that will change in the future to reduce the number of smokers in the world – one of the main causes of premature death.
That said, as nicotine pouch usage becomes more widespread and the understanding of this product and its benefits over traditional tobacco products increases, we can expect more sound policy and a harm-reduction approach moving forward.
So far, different jurisdictions have taken quite different approaches to nicotine pouches. Some have analyzed the data and regarded nicotine pouches positively as a harm-reduction alternative. On the other hand. Other jurisdictions have taken a completely different approach and decided to ban them altogether, highlighting that more education is needed.
At the same time, most countries have an 18-year age limit for purchasing nicotine pouches. This is because nicotine products, in general, have an 18-year age limit and since nicotine pouches fall into this category, it’s only natural.
Since nicotine is addictive, this age restriction is both logical and good to prevent young individuals to become dependent on nicotine. Whilst nicotine pouches are much less harmful than smoking, the best is of course not to use any of them.
Harm Reduction or New Risk?
One of the main arguments in favor of nicotine pouches as a harm reduction tool is their elimination of combustion and the associated harmful byproducts found in traditional tobacco smoke. As we have already concluded, nicotine pouches are without a doubt a much less harmful alternative to smoking, so it makes sense to adopt a harm-reduction approach. We already know that taking a more hard approach and, for example, banning cigarettes altogether, is not a viable solution, so the second best solution would be to encourage people to switch to less harmful alternatives.
Users of nicotine pouches are not exposed to tar, carbon monoxide, and numerous carcinogenic substances that are prevalent in cigarette smoke. This reduction in exposure suggests a potential improvement in respiratory health compared to smoking.
Support for Smoking Cessation: As many studies have proved, nicotine pouches can serve as a valuable tool in smoking cessation efforts. Whilst nicotine pouches are not classified as a smoking cessation aid, there is plenty of proof that nicotine pouches can help people quit by switching to nicotine pouches compared to quitting altogether cold turkey.
Offering a less harmful alternative could assist individuals in transitioning away from combustible tobacco products, aligning with broader public health goals aimed at reducing the prevalence of smoking-related diseases.
Nicotine Addiction and Dependency: Despite the absence of combustion-related toxins, nicotine pouches still deliver nicotine which is a highly addictive substance. Critics argue that the potential for nicotine addiction remains, and the use of pouches may perpetuate dependency. Whilst nicotine pouches are addictive due to the presence of nicotine, we know that it is a much more successful strategy to adopt a harm-reduction strategy (like Sweden) for the sake of public health.
Gateway to Tobacco Use: Concerns exist regarding the potential for nicotine pouches to serve as a gateway to traditional tobacco use, especially among youth and non-smokers. If these products attract individuals who would not have otherwise initiated nicotine consumption, they may inadvertently contribute to a new generation of tobacco users. However, data suggests that this is not the case. Users switch from smoking to nicotine pouches but there is limited evidence that nicotine pouch usage leads to a higher rate of smoking. In fact, quite the opposite.