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This is what is replacing vapes for children, and it’s scary

They’re illegal in Australia but widely marketed on social media, and it’s time to act on stamping the little pouches out, writes Madonna King.

Feb 23, 2024, updated Feb 23, 2024
Users of these nicotine pouches can choose from different strengths and flavours.

Users of these nicotine pouches can choose from different strengths and flavours.

Snus. Zyn. Upper decky lip pillow.

Heard any of those words before? Because they pose an insidious threat to our children.

In short, they are words that describe a new type of vape. They are as dangerous as vapes, marketed in the same secret way often (via social media), available in all sorts of flavours and knocking on their bedroom doors.

Placed between the upper lip and gum for extended periods, social media influencers – particularly on TikTok, but also Instagram – are spreading the word.

Users of these nicotine pouches can choose from different strengths (three milligrams, which targets those who now vape, or six milligrams for those who want a stronger option), and flavours.

Indeed the flavour range in one brand – the Zyn brand, which is operated by a subsidiary of Philip Morris International – offers its Australian customers these options: Citrus, wintergreen, spearmint, peppermint, coffee, cinnamon, menthol, ginger with blood orange, grapefruit, chocolate, vanilla, nougat and even a peach and prosecco bellini.

Other brands are marketing black cherry, violet liquorice and mint flavours.

Our politicians took too long to ban vapes and by the time they were outlawed (although the black market continues), their use in school toilets had reached epidemic proportions.

School principals found shops, where vapes were centre stage, popping up on playground corners, aimed at capturing the student market.

Toilets continue to be monitored in many schools, and in some cases, students have even been put on rostered toilet breaks to stem the widespread use of vapes, including by children as young as 10.

Many of those children are now addicted, and looking for something to replace vapes, which are now harder – but certainly not impossible – to source.

A portion of Snus, a smokeless tobacco product placed under the upper lip, is on a production line in Sweden.

And nicotine pouches, which you might also hear called Snus in Australia, are being packed up and sent here. Scarily, they are smaller and less visible than vapes.

Nicotine pouches are not new, but their target audience is, and so is the way they are marketed to a captive audience. That marketing is as clever as it is cunning, with TikTok accounts being flooded and social media influencers carrying the message to the young masses.

That’s advertising their parents don’t even see. It’s on their smart device. But be assured that free shipping is being offered, along with a new adventure in smoke-free vaping.

“Zyn is incredibly popular with our Australian customers,’’ one online site claims. And this: “Whether you’re yearning for a refreshing mint after a day at Bondi Beach or a tangy citrus hint during a barbecue in the Outback, Zyn caters to every Australian taste. Trying Zyn is not just about enjoying nicotine; it’s about embracing a cleaner and more modern choice that aligns with Australia’s forward-thinking lifestyle.’’

The manufacturers claim they are a smoke-free alternative to cigarettes only meant for adults.

But that was the claim with vapes too – and TikTok, which does not require age verification, is used by tweens and teens more than their parents.

If we follow the trajectory of vapes, soon we will see pouches being confiscated in our school toilets and in our children’s school bags, at parties and sleepovers.

The New York Times reported that those trialling the single six-milligram pouch – also offered in Australia – is making first-time users vomit and pass out.

Dentists are already reporting new gum disease in young users.

Alecia Brooks, chair of the Cancer Council’s Tobacco Issues Committee, said that pouches can carry higher nicotine levels than traditional cigarettes and that the tobacco and vaping industry “continues to develop new ways to keep consumers hooked’’.

They are banned from sale here, and require a prescription to access, but that seems to be the small print.

Several websites promote them and offer to ship them directly to consumers’ homes. Those sellers are also telling Australians that they are legal here.

If we act now, not down the track, this could be a win-win for our politicians and policymakers.

Shutting down this emerging habit now, particularly among our teenagers, would be an indisputable vote winner.

And perhaps more importantly, it would also protect the health of the next generation of young people; tomorrow’s voters.

TND

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