Zyn Nicotine Pouches are the Latest Dangerous Social Media Trend for Teens


*Dr. Elizabeth Cilenti contributed to Christina Montoya Fiedler’s parents.com article, published on February 23, 2024

Teens Are Getting Hooked on Zyn With Help From Social Media ‘Zynfluencers’

You’ve probably heard about the dangers of vaping. But there’s a new trend among teens that’s causing alarm: Zyn.

These popular oral nicotine pouches are taking the teen world by storm, with many convinced they are healthier than other tobacco alternatives. “Zynfluencers” are all over social media posting videos using the product, with some discussing the “buzz” these products can give. Several of these videos have millions of views.

So, it’s no wonder that Zyn is getting so popular. Just how popular? Nicotine pouch sales are booming in the United States with Zyn taking the lead.1 Philip Morris International, Zyn’s parent company, says it’s seen “better-than-expected” growth of the product and expects it to drive a double-digit net revenue from 2024 to 2026.2

Adolescents are paying attention. About 1.5% of middle and high school students reported using nicotine pouches, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey.3

This has been enough to put it on the radar of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, who called upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Zyn, saying that these nicotine patches are potentially dangerous to teens who are using them in place of vapes and cigarettes.

How concerned should parents be? Here’s what experts say about this addictive product.

What Is Zyn and Why Are Teens Interested?

Zyn is the name brand for a popular tobacco- and smoke-free nicotine pouch. Users place the pouch, which comes in different flavors and strengths, between the gums and lips for absorption.

Unlike cigarettes or chewing tobacco, there is no tobacco in Zyn. You also do not have to inhale the product like a vape. This makes them easier for teens to conceal and may contribute to the belief that they are better for you than other nicotine delivery products.

“For many, especially teens, the absence of smoke or vapor can mistakenly signal a safer way to consume nicotine,” says Hayley Nelson, PhD, a neuroscientist, psychology professor at Delaware County Community College, and founder of the Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience. “However, the primary function remains the same: to satisfy nicotine cravings, which can lead to dependence, especially in young, developing brains.”

Users report receiving a slight, short-lived high from the product, also known as a nicotine buzz. But this euphoric feeling can deteriorate over time; the body can begin to build a tolerance to nicotine and more and more of it may be required to achieve that feeling again.4

On its website, Philip Morris International emphasizes that minors should not be using any of its smoke-free products, writing, “smoke-free products are not intended for people who have never smoked, people who have already quit, or anyone below the legal age of tobacco and nicotine use.” The company also says it does not attempt to market to youth and supports regulation that would prevent youth from obtaining these products, which are meant for those 21 and older.

What Are Zyn Health Risks?

Zyn is often touted as an easy way to quit smoking. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), including gum, patches, spray, and inhalers, has been found to almost double a person’s chance of quitting smoking, while eliminating the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke.5

But young people often use the product as their first introduction to nicotine, which, in turn, can get them hooked. Nicotine is highly addictive, and just 5 milligrams a day is enough to start an addiction.6

While all the potential long-term health effects of Zyn aren’t fully known yet, parents and teens should take caution.

“We don’t yet know all of the health effects of nicotine pouches,” confirms Elizabeth Cilenti, MD, MPH, a board-certified internist and pediatrician at North Virginia Family Practice in Arlington, Virginia. “What we do know is that nicotine itself, or using nicotine in forms like e-cigarettes, can make kids more likely to use nicotine and cigarettes later in life.”

That’s not all: Nicotine can be harmful to young brains, which are still developing and maturing until the mid-to-late 20s.7 Its use during adolescence can affect the formation of brain circuits, which can lead to attention deficit disorders and learning disabilities, among other issues, according to The Truth Initiative.

Nicotine can increase the heart rate and blood pressure and cause withdrawal symptoms.8 It can also increase symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as stress levels, explains The Truth Initiative. Plus, oral nicotine products can lead to gum disease.9

How to Talk to Your Kids About Zyn

It’s likely your child has heard of Zyn through social media and peers. Open communication is key in getting on top of this trend. Sit your child down and talk to them about the dangers of smoking, vaping, and using products like Zyn.

If your teen becomes defensive, Dr. Nelson has advice.

“Approach the conversation with curiosity rather than accusation,” says Dr. Nelson. “Ask your child what they know about Zyn and if they’ve encountered it at school or among friends.”

Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, either. While it might seem like prying, knowing what your teen is doing and who they are doing it with is important. Get to know their friends and take an interest in their activities.

Also, remember that experimentation is a part of teen behavior, so be prepared for that.

“A major part of adolescence is identity formation and peer relationships. So much of the teen brain is dedicated to figuring out who they are, who they want to be, and where and how they belong in the world,” says Melanie McNally, PsD, licensed clinical psychologist and brain coach who works with tweens, teens, and young adults, and author of The Emotionally Intelligent Teen. “This means that when it comes to substance use, teens are more likely to experiment.”

But make your rules clear, and stick to them. And when all else fails, continue to be a positive role model for a healthy lifestyle.

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