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Do Zyns cause oral cancer?

“You talked a lot about vaping when you visited our school but it looks like Zyns are becoming far more popular now. There does seem to be a lot of confusion about how dangerous they are with some people saying they cause oral cancers and others saying they’re completely safe. Which is true?”

Oral nicotine pouches are not new. ‘Snus’ is most probably the most well-known and is a smokeless tobacco product traditionally used in Scandinavia, most notably in Sweden and Norway. Before becoming available in the user-friendly pouches used today, snus was sold as a loose powder that could be rolled up and placed between the upper lip and gum, providing the person with a ‘nicotine hit’. The drug is supplied via shredded tobacco leaf and is now also sold in portions that look like small tea bags. As already said, this product is not new and has been banned from sale in Australia since the early 1990s.

Zyn and other similar products are comparatively new, however, and instead of containing tobacco leaf, they’re filled with a synthetic white nicotine-containing powder. In addition, a range of flavourings and sweeteners are also added to the mix. Zyn’s website says that their pouches contain ‘pharmaceutical-grade’ nicotine salt, hydroxypropyl cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, maltitol, gum arabic, sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, acesulfame K and food-grade flavourings. Many of these haven’t historically been used in nicotine products before so we really know very little about the long-term harms associated with their use.

Chewing tobacco is linked to an increased risk of oral cancer, typically occurring in parts of the mouth where the product is most often held, i.e., inside of the cheeks, the gums or lips. It’s been estimated that those who use chewing or any other type of smokeless tobacco have about 50 times greater risk of oral cancer than people who do not. There continues to be debate whether snus use is associated with an increased cancer risk, nevertheless, it’s certainly not a ‘risk-free’ product having been linked to gum disease, heart disease and strokes.

Newer products like Zyn don’t contain tobacco and as a result they may be ‘safer’ than snus and other smokeless tobacco products, but we really don’t know. Those who’ve used them report a range of side effects like hiccups, gum irritation, a sore mouth and an upset stomach, particularly if they’ve never smoked or vaped before. Most importantly, these are very new products and we know little about the long-term effects of the mix of chemicals contained in each pouch.

One thing that many tend to forget is that these are products that contain nicotine. Whether it be derived from tobacco or produced in a laboratory, nicotine is a substance that many find can themselves addicted to very quickly. These pouches come in a number of different strengths, with some containing significant amounts of the drug. Finding yourself dependent on nicotine and experiencing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, whether it be due to cigarette smoking, vaping or using nicotine pouches, can affect your life dramatically. If you’re a smoker, or even a person who vapes, these products could be a ‘safer’ option if you’re nicotine dependent but if you’ve never smoked or vaped, it’s best to avoid them altogether.

First published: May 2024

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