The Zyn debate clouds a sinister public health problem in the US

Earlier this year, an op-ed published in the New York Times sparked a conversation among U.S. federal lawmakers about nicotine pouches, and whether an increase in their use is a threat to public health. Some were quick to claim that the growing popularity of the bags – especially on social media – poses a danger to minors.

Since then, a class action lawsuit has been filed in the US District Court for the District of Southern Florida against Zyn’s maker, Philip Morris International, accusing the company of marketing to teenagers.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a flood of warning letters to retailers selling pouches to people under the age of 21.

It is true that nicotine pouches like Zyn – like any product containing nicotine – should not be accessible to minors. Companies and other entities found to be selling these products to children should face legal consequences and be prevented from doing so in the future.

And yet the outpouring of public concern about Zyn reflects a larger and much more complex problem with the way the US approaches nicotine and tobacco regulation.

Nicotine pouches are a reduced-risk nicotine product. Although not completely safe, they are much less harmful than combustible cigarettes, which kill one in two long-term users, and other non-combustible tobacco products such as chewing tobacco.

In Sweden, the smoking rate has fallen to around 6 percent – ​​significantly lower than the EU average of around 18 percent and the US smoking rate of 11.5 percent.

Sweden also has lower rates of lung cancer than these other countries. This is partly due to the early adoption of a smoke-free policy in the country and the popularity of snus, a nicotine pouch similar to Zyn. (Unlike Zyn, snus actually contains tobacco.)

Swedish health authorities have rightly determined that reduced-risk forms of nicotine, such as snus, can protect users from the dozens of carcinogens and countless other toxic chemicals in the smoke produced by burning tobacco, and have therefore created a landscape created that encourages nicotine users to make a less dangerous choice.

Like Sweden, the US has also banned smoking in many public areas. But when U.S. lawmakers sound the alarm about reduced-risk nicotine products, focusing only on the risk to youth, they jeopardize the appeal and availability of these products to adults who smoke and are otherwise unable or unwilling to smoke. to stop.

In the US, there are approximately 30 million adults who continue to smoke. Most of them want to quit, but most have been unable to do so with the nicotine-based and other quit drugs approved by the FDA. As a result, these individuals continue to smoke, which is undoubtedly the deadliest way to consume nicotine. Discussions demonizing nicotine pouches risk the lives of millions of adults who continue to smoke.

In an ideal world, there would be more effective scientific solutions for people who smoke and want to stop using nicotine completely. But in the meantime, we must recognize that in a world where today more than a billion people smoke tobacco, with devastating consequences, public health must bring compassion and respect to people’s real-life needs.

In the US, there is an urgent need for the FDA to create a carefully regulated environment in which reduced-risk nicotine products such as Zyn are made available to smokers while keeping them out of the reach of minors.

These two crucial goals can be carried out harmoniously. The need to protect our youth from nicotine exposure should not conflict with supporting the urgent needs of adults who smoke and could benefit from much safer use of the same substance.

As the regulator of tobacco products in the US, the FDA must clear the air about the risks posed by different forms of nicotine. It should effectively emphasize that nicotine, while not without risk, is not the cause of the mass illness and death associated with cigarette smoking.

By shifting the focus to the real dangers of smoking and emphasizing the potential benefits of reduced-risk, non-combustible nicotine products, we can and will – together – save many more lives.

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