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What is Zyn? Doctors share health concerns of the popular and controversial nicotine pouch

On Call with Dr. Kumar: What to know about Zyn
On Call with Dr. Kumar: What to know about Zyn 03:53

It's not a cigarette or vape, because there's no smoke. And it's not chewing tobacco, because there's no tobacco or spitting required. It's called Zyn, a brand of nicotine pouches that are gaining popularity, especially among younger demographics. 

Some proponents of the pouches say it gives them a rush, while others hope it'll help them kick a smoking habit. So-called "Zynfluencers" can be seen popping the little white pouches between their gums and cheeks on social media.

Others, however, are warning against the product, noting health concerns. In addition to nicotine, the pouches also contain plant-based fibers, sweeteners and flavorings like cinnamon, citrus and coffee.

"We are hooking a whole new generation of young people on to nicotine," Dr. Nidhi Kumar told CBS New York. "The marketing strategies, the packaging looks like candy, flavors like cinnamon and mint and even names like 'smooth' or 'chill.' I mean, who are these products appealing to? Young people."

Sen. Chuck Schumer recently issued a warning about Zyn, describing them as a "pouch packed with problems."

"These nicotine pouches seem to lock their sights on young kids — teenagers and even lower — and then use the social media to hook 'em," he said at a press conference. 

Here's what to know about health risks and concerns of Zyn. 

Swedish Match AB Concept Store As Philip Morris International Inc. Wins $16 Billion Battle For Nicotine Pouch Maker
Zyn smokeless nicotine pouches at the Swedish Match AB concept store in central Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.  Jonas Ekblom/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Are Zyns better than vaping?

Unlike smoking and vaping, Zyn is smoke- and tobacco-free — but the pouches still contain nicotine, an addictive chemical.

This makes the product legal only for those 21 and above. The brand's warning label states the product is not intended for use by "minors, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or persons with or at risk of heart disease or high blood pressure." 

"If you do not currently use nicotine, ZYN is not for you," the brand's website declares. Users of the website must verify their age before perusing the page. 

Kumar told CBS New York that the pouches are "marketed as being products that can help you quit smoking," but said that experts "have no data to substantiate that." 

Philip Morris International, the parent company of Zyn manufacturer Swedish Match, told CBS News it has not marketed the product for smoking cessation, and says all of its products "fully meet and exceed the regulations governing the industry."

"Our marketing practices—which prohibit the use of social media influencers—are focused on preventing underage access and set the benchmark for the industry. Real-world evidence shows this approach is working: the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA show oral nicotine pouch use by those under the legal age remains exceptionally low," the company said in a statement.

Even if using these products as an alternative to smoking, Dr. Mustali Dohadwala, medical director and practitioner at cardiology-focused private practice Heartsafe, says he wouldn't consider it a lesser of the two evils. Instead, "it's certainly a different evil." 

"It's supposed to serve as a methodology for weaning, and you could argue that it can be even more difficult to quit a use of nicotine due to the flavor profiles... that are being marketed, manufactured and the way they're making it stylish to consume these products," Dohadwala says. 

Does Zyn raise blood pressure or cause gum damage?

While we don't know the long-term effects of Zyn yet, health experts say there are several health concerns to be aware of when it comes to nicotine use, including cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and oral health impacts.

"We know that it increases heart rate (and) blood pressure," Dohadwala says. "In particular to oral nicotine pouches, what I worry about is periodontal disease. There are toxic chemicals in these pouches, which can lead to injury of the gums. Persistent, recurrent injury can end up leading to inflammation, infection but most importantly cancer."

Kumar echoed the concerns of periodontal and gum disease.

"If you're using these products, just Google nicotine pouches and dental disease — you'll spit it out right away," she said. 

There can also be gastrointestinal effects, she added, including nausea and vomiting. Some users have also reported experiencing hiccups and diarrhea.

It can also increase your risk of diabetes in the long run, she said, since nicotine interacts with your cells to make you glucose and insulin intolerant.

Nicotine, addiction and mental health impacts

The negative impacts of nicotine go beyond physical health and into mental health as well. 

While nicotine produces an immediate sense of relaxation, Kumar explained that the feeling is short-lived. 

"When it wears off, there's a spike in edginess and anxiety, even stressful types of feelings," she said. "So it creates this vicious cycle because then you have cravings that wants you to get that relaxation feeling again but in the end it ends up increasing your anxiety level and your stress level when you use these products."

Another impact that's top of mind? Addiction, Kumar said, adding young brains are particularly vulnerable to the condition. 

If you're dealing with nicotine addiction, Dohadwala says seeking professional help, like seeing an addiction specialist or psychologist, is important.

"It's important, too, for any person who ends up struggling with this addiction of consumption to understand that it is an addiction," he says. "It is something that's going to take time. This is not a sprint by any means, it is a marathon."

He also warns young people to be aware of the potential consequences if they're choosing to dabble in these pouches for fun.

"There are so many things out there that are trendy, and something that is artificial, that's potentially toxic to your body, you would want to really be cautious," he says. "There are untoward effects that are related to experimenting with these things, and at times those experimentations end up becoming habits and addictions."

If you or a loved one is experiencing a problem with substance use, help is available via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

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