What Are Nicotine Pouches?

27 May 2024

What Are Nicotine Pouches?

Nicotine pouches are small, tobacco-free bags filled with nicotine and other ingredients. They are placed inside the mouth between the gum and lip to allow the nicotine to absorb into the bloodstream. Nicotine pouches are a popular alternative to smoking cigarettes and are mainly used by smokers who want to quit smoking. Unlike snus, nicotine pouches do not contain tobacco. Instead, they contain synthetic nicotine, flavourings, sweeteners, and plant-based fibres.

The main ingredients in oral nicotine pouches are detailed below.

Ingredients in Nicotine Pouches

The five main ingredients in nicotine pouches are nicotine, flavourings, sweeteners, plant-based fibres, and water. Nicotine pouches contain far less toxic compounds than Swedish snus and tobacco smoking, according to a 2022 British American Tobacco study published in the Drug and Chemical Toxicology entitled "Chemical characterization of tobacco-free "modern" oral nicotine pouches and their position on the toxicant and risk continuum."

The main ingredients in oral nicotine pouches are detailed below.

  • Nicotine: The addictive chemical found in tobacco products
  • Sweeteners: Improve flavour, most commonly sucralose and acesulfame potassium
  • Flavourings: Range from mint to mango; attract users
  • Plant fibres: Derived from pine, eucalyptus, or other plants; makes up pouch material
  • Water: Adds moisture to allow for absorption

Popular nicotine pouch brands like Zyn, VeloOn!, Killa, Elf Bar TacjaGold Rush, Hit, KingstonPablo, Poke, UBBS, Velo, and White Fox Slim use these ingredients to create the pouches, ensuring safety and consistency across their lines of tobacco free nicotine pouches.

Are Nicotine Pouches Different to Snus or Chewing Tobacco?

Nicotine pouches are different to snus and chewing tobacco. Unlike these smokeless tobacco products, which contain moist, processed tobacco, nicotine pouches use synthetic nicotine and lack tobacco leaf. This distinction means nicotine pouches technically aren't classified as tobacco by the FDA or held to the same manufacturing standards or health warnings.

The tobacco-free, smokeless branding sets them apart to attract users, even those who want to avoid tobacco. However, the addictive chemical nicotine still presents in both nicotine pouches and tobacco products carries risks.

Using Nicotine Pouches

To use nicotine pouches, place a pouch between your gum and lip and leave it there for up to 60 minutes as the nicotine absorbs. You are likely to feel a tingling sensation as the nicotine begins to release from the pouch. Once satisfied, remove the pouch and dispose.

Below is a step-by-step list detailing how to use a nicotine pouch.

  1. Place a pouch in your mouth between your gum and upper lip, similar to dipping tobacco.
  2. Leave the pouch in place for up to 60 minutes as the nicotine absorbs.
  3. Gently press the pouch against your gums periodically to facilitate absorption.
  4. Dispose of the used pouch once finished.

You don't smoke or swallow the pouch. It simply stays put between gum and lip as the nicotine releases over time.

Are Nicotine Pouches Safe?

Nicotine pouches are safer than many other nicotine products on the market as they do not contain tobacco leaves and, therefore, contain far fewer carcinogens and toxic chemicals compared to traditional cigarettes or smokeless tobacco like dip, snus, or chewing tobacco. Both lab analysis and simulated biological models reveal a drastically reduced harmful profile. According to a 2021 study by chemists D. Azzopardi and colleagues at British American Tobacco, 22 out of 25 leading hazardous compounds were completely absent in nicotine pouches, while only 11 out of 23 proved undetectable in snus. Furthermore, in vitro research discovered nicotine pouch extracts showed minimal toxicity to human cell cultures - similar to nicotine gum - while cigarette and snus extracts severely impacted cellular health.

Nicotine pouches offer a smokeless source of stimulant nicotine through a small porous bag placed in the mouth. Unlike historical smokeless options like snus or dipping tobacco, nicotine pouches intentionally exclude leaf tobacco. Instead, they utilise pharmaceutical-grade nicotine, water, flavours, sweeteners, and plant-based fibres to create a tobacco-free alternative focused solely on nicotine delivery.

Despite being safer than smoking tobacco and using snus, nicotine pouches are not risk-free. Common side effects include gum irritation, mouth sores, tooth decay, headache, nausea, increased heart rate, hiccups, addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

The most common side effects of nicotine pouches are detailed below.

  • Gum irritation: Red, sore, or receding gums caused by irritation from the nicotine pouch pressing on the gums for extended periods
  • Mouth sores: Painful ulcers or canker sores on the gums, inner cheeks or tongue from irritation by nicotine pouches
  • Tooth decay: Increased risk of cavities and other dental issues since nicotine reduces blood flow and minerals to tooth enamel
  • Headache: Pulsing head pain caused by nicotine ingestion or withdrawal
  • Nausea: Queasy stomach feeling, possibly leading to vomiting, due to swallowing nicotine juice or a reaction to ingesting nicotine
  • Increased heart rate: Accelerated heart rate and palpitations triggered by nicotine absorption
  • Hiccups: Intake of high levels of nicotine can cause hiccups due to irritation of the diaphragm
  • Addiction: Brain dependence and intense cravings for nicotine pouches when use is stopped due to the highly addictive nature of nicotine
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Onset of physical and mental symptoms like depression, anxiety, irritability and insomnia when discontinuing nicotine pouch use due to dependence on nicotine

Potential For Gum Disease

Limited research exists on the specific health impacts of nicotine pouches since they are relatively new to the market. However, a 1989 study conducted by Andersson and Axéll on snus, a similar smokeless tobacco product, concluded that using snus can cause gum recession (gingivitis).

While more research focuses directly on nicotine pouches, we can hypothesise similar oral health risks may apply when frequently placing tobacco-free products along the gums.

Do Nicotine Pouches Cause Cancer?

There is no current evidence conclusively linking nicotine pouches to cancer. More long-term studies over many years are needed to determine cancer risk.

However, nicotine has been linked to tumour growth promotion. And other smokeless tobacco products like snus (a similar pouch product) do show associations with increased cancer rates.

So, while nicotine itself does not directly cause cancer, users cannot be sure nicotine pouches eliminate cancer risk entirely. Their use should be moderated and avoided by those concerned about cancer.

What are the advantages of using nicotine pouches over traditional tobacco products?

Nicotine pouches offer several advantages over traditional tobacco products, including reduced exposure to harmful chemicals, convenience, discreetness, and lack of smoke or spitting.

The key benefits of nicotine pouches over tobacco are listed below.

  • They are tobacco-free, so they contain far fewer carcinogens, toxicants, and other dangerous chemicals that are responsible for many smoking-related diseases. This significantly reduces health risks like cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.
  • Nicotine pouches are small, discreet pouches that tuck neatly beside the gumline. This makes them very convenient and easy to use when managing nicotine cravings or withdrawal symptoms.
  • Unlike chewing tobacco or dip, nicotine pouches do not require spitting, leaving no mess. There is also no smoke produced, making them less intrusive for people around the user.
  • The availability of different flavour options and nicotine strengths allows users to customise their experience and gradually step down their dosage. This can increase compliance and effectiveness for quitting smoking.
  • They provide a substitute oral activity similar to smoking a cigarette. The hand-to-mouth motion can help prevent relapse in people trying to quit smoking.

Nicotine pouches are an appealing alternative to traditional tobacco that allow users to obtain nicotine in a safer, more discreet manner. This helps reduce health risks while also managing withdrawal and cravings during the smoking cessation process.

How do nicotine pouches help in quitting smoking?

By providing controlled nicotine delivery and mimicking smoking behaviors, nicotine pouches can effectively manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings when quitting smoking.

The main reasons nicotine pouches can be a useful aid when trying to quit smoking cigarettes are detailed below.

  • Deliver nicotine in a steady, controlled dose. This allows the user to manage withdrawal effects and episodic cravings, which are major obstacles in the quit journey.
  • Allow the user to gradually step down nicotine levels over time by transitioning to lower dose pouches. This weaning process lets the body and brain adapt slowly to less and less nicotine.
  • Mimic the hand-to-mouth ritual of bringing a cigarette up to the mouth for a puff. The oral action helps appease the behavioral aspects of addiction.
  • Produce no smoke, leaving zero impact on lungs or cardiovascular health compared to smoking. This allows the quitter to break psychological ties to smoking behavior.
  • Come in a variety of flavours, giving the user options to prevent boredom or dissatisfaction. Taste alternatives make compliance more appealing.

By keeping nicotine withdrawal and cravings under control while also providing the oral/tactile experience smokers often miss, nicotine pouches can effectively help motivate and support someone trying to quit smoking for good.

Are nicotine pouches without tobacco safe?

While generally safer than traditional tobacco, nicotine pouches still contain addictive nicotine and some risk remains, indicating they are not 100% safe. Users should aim to reduce nicotine intake over time.

Nicotine pouches that do not contain any tobacco or tobacco-derived nitrosamines are considered safer alternatives to traditional smokeless tobacco products. However, it's important to understand they carry the following risks:

  • All nicotine pouches contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can lead to dependence with prolonged use. Addiction remains an ongoing disease risk.
  • Nicotine affects parts of the body like heart rate, blood pressure, and vasoconstriction of blood vessels. So cardiovascular risks are still present.
  • While specific evidence linking nicotine pouches to cancer is lacking, nicotine may have promotional effects on tumor growth according to some research. More study is needed in humans.
  • Long-term exposure even to tobacco-free nicotine poses some oral health risks like gum/mouth irritation, tooth decay, gum disease, and mouth sores.

So while nicotine pouches without tobacco are generally regarded as safer, they are not risk-free. It is important for users to monitor themselves for side effects, use moderation, and work to lower nicotine consumption over time through stepping down pouch strengths. Consulting a doctor is always advisable for guidance.

What are the potential side effects of long-term nicotine pouch use?

Long-term nicotine pouch use can lead to gum irritation, mouth sores, headaches, nausea increased heart rate, and with extended exposure, the risks of gum disease and tooth decay also rise over time.

Using nicotine pouches daily and continuously over months or years may trigger the following side effects:

Oral Health Problems:

  • Gum irritation - Red, sore gums at the site of the pouch insertion is commonly reported, likely due to the fibers irritating the tender gum tissue.
  • Mouth/tongue sores - Some users report the development of painful sores or lesions in the mouth due to chronic exposure.
  • Gum disease - Long-term exposure to any foreign substance is associated with increased gum disease risk. Receding gums are specifically linked to smokeless tobacco use.
  • Tooth decay - Dry mouth and reduced saliva production are side effects of long-term nicotine intake, increasing tooth decay risks.

General Health Problems:

  • Headaches - Frequent headaches due to repeated stimulation of vascular structures, including cerebral blood vessels that swell due to nicotine.
  • Nausea/dizziness - Common side effects of intake at first as body adjusts; risk continues long-term.
  • Increased heart rate - Nicotine acts as a stimulant, elevating heart rate chronically, which strains cardiovascular system over time.

Nicotine pouches are generally safe for temporary, occasional use but pose more health risks with sustained, long-term exposure as side effects accumulate. Users should monitor themselves and consult a doctor if experiencing persistent or severe symptoms.

Are nicotine pouches gluten-free?

Yes, most nicotine pouch products are gluten-free, but individuals with celiac disease should still check packaging or contact manufacturers to confirm gluten content before using.

In most cases, nicotine pouches can be considered a gluten-free product based on their main ingredients: nicotine, water, flavouring, sweeteners, and plant fibers to hold the pouch together. These components do not typically contain gluten. Leading nicotine pouch brands also avoid adding ingredients like wheat, barley, rye, and malt that naturally contain the problematic proteins.

However, those with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity should still double check the packaging and ingredient list for any indication of “gluten” or related grains before ingesting. If unsure or if such information is unavailable, consider directly contacting the manufacturer to inquire about testing for gluten content. Reputable nicotine pouch companies should have quality control testing to validate the absence of allergens and gluten specifically.

So while most nicotine pouches are intentionally formulated to be gluten-free, people susceptible to gluten cannot afford to risk assumptions when it comes to ingesting unknown products. Confirming gluten-free status is advised before relying solely on nicotine pouches for nicotine intake just to ensure safety and health.

Are nicotine pouches regulated in the UK?

No, nicotine pouches currently fall outside regulatory frameworks like the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations (TRPR) that govern other nicotine products in the UK market. They are only subject to general consumer product safety guidelines at this time.

As of 2024, nicotine pouches remain unregulated by major UK tobacco control regulations like the TRPR or Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) notification system. Specifically:

  • The TRPR provides standards for tobacco products and e-cigarettes regarding ingredients, packaging, labelling, and more. But nicotine pouches are not covered under its regulatory scope.
  • The MHRA requires new e-cigarette products be submitted for assessment before selling in the UK market. Again, this notification scheme does not apply to nicotine pouches.

Instead, nicotine pouches currently only need to follow general consumer product safety regulations related to manufacturing, marketing, and sale. With no specific regulatory framework in place, some public health experts argue that more formal oversight of nicotine pouches may be warranted given their increasing popularity and potential for harm with long term use.

For now, reputable nicotine pouch companies self-impose quality control and safety testing standards. But legal accountability remains limited compared to tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarette products in the UK that face more stringent regulations. This discrepancy could change if regulatory agencies expand their authority to include these nicotine products as well.

Can nicotine pouches cause oral cancer?

Short Answer: There is currently no evidence conclusively linking nicotine pouches themselves to oral cancer. However, nicotine may promote tumor growth, indicating a need for further research on long-term impacts of prolonged use.

Unlike traditional smokeless tobacco which contains multiple proven oral carcinogens, nicotine pouches themselves are not directly associated with mouth cancer based on current data. However, their risk profile carries a few caveats:

  • Nicotine has shown tumor-promoting effects in some animal studies, accelerating cell proliferation in existing masses. So there is a possibility it could exacerbate growth in humans.
  • Long-term human studies analysing the effects of long-term exclusive nicotine pouch use are lacking, leaving the door open for unforeseen health impacts.

So while nicotine pouches are likely safer regarding oral cancer compared to tobacco products containing known carcinogens, their precise role in cancer risk remains partially unclear without 20+ year human studies. Their lack of combustion and fewer chemicals certainly improve that risk profile but more data is still needed. Those concerned should aim to minimise long-term nicotine intake via pouches until more definitive evidence emerges.

What are the health benefits of switching from smoking to nicotine pouches?

Switching eliminates exposure to tobacco combustion toxins and chemicals, improving cardiovascular, respiratory, and overall health, with reduced risks of lung disease, heart disease, and cancer.

Making the change from traditional tobacco smoking to nicotine pouches offers major health improvements in the following areas:

  • Respiratory Function - Avoidance of inhaled smoke prevents lung tissue damage and improves oxygen transport and lung capacity over time.
  • Heart Health - Elimination of smoke cuts down on heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, blocked arteries, and poor circulation.
  • Cancer Risk - The tobacco-free formulation removes hundreds of carcinogenic chemicals that cause DNA mutation and tumor growth in tissues.
  • Oral Health - Lack of smoke promotes healthier gums and eliminates staining on teeth and tooth decay from cigarettes.
  • Reproductive Health - Lower toxicity improves fertility prospects in both men and women. Smoke is especially damaging to fetal development.

The collective benefit is substantially reducing the likelihood of developing many serious smoking-related illnesses like lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, heart attacks, strokes, and more.

Ex-smokers who switch to nicotine pouches also tend to report higher energy levels, improved stamina/athletic performance, better immunity, and an overall enhanced sense of health and wellbeing from ending cigarette use.

Are nicotine pouches a good alternative for those looking to reduce their nicotine intake gradually?

Yes, by allowing users to step down nicotine levels over time, nicotine pouches can effectively support a gradual reduction plan for those looking to quit nicotine.

Nicotine pouches serve as an excellent aid for smokers seeking to slowly wean themselves off nicotine rather than quitting abruptly. They offer a stepping stone approach through:

  • Starting with higher dose pouches first to manage initial cravings and withdrawal during the early tobacco-free transition period. This prevents early relapse.
  • Gradually transitioning to lower and lower nicotine content pouches on a schedule; for example, stepping down nicotine concentration every 4-6 weeks.
  • Eventually, progress to an extremely low dose for the last stepping stone before being completely nicotine-free.
  • Preventing strong withdrawal symptoms through gradual reduction, rather than intense cravings and mood swings from rapidly dropping nicotine levels.

So for smokers who struggle to quit nicotine “cold turkey,” nicotine pouches provide an achievable path to finally eliminating nicotine dependence through patient, controlled steps downward at a pace better aligned with the brain's ability to adapt.

Author: Prime® Pouches Nicotine Pouch Specialist Department

Our in-house team of nicotine pouch specialists at Prime® Pouches includes lead writers Lisa, George, and Alex - all former smokers who have successfully switched to nicotine pouches. All of our writers at Prime® Pouches have a miniumum of a Bachelor's Degree in a related field and are passionate about helping readers quit smoking.