MWANGI: Need for urgent research on nicotine pouchesACTA
- When consumed in high levels, nicotine can lead to poisoning and death, but the most common problem with the chemical is its addictive nature.
- It reconfigures how the brain operates and makes people crave tobacco products.
There is a raging debate as to whether nicotine pouches should be restricted due to the fact that they are largely viewed as smokeless tobacco variants.
There has also been heightened discussion on whether the pouches, which are placed under the lip so that the nicotine can be absorbed by the body, contain tobacco.
Scientifically, nicotine is an addictive chemical compound found in tobacco plants. Its use leads to serious health problems, including increased blood pressure and hardening of arterial walls, which eventually causes heart attack. Products with tobacco such as most e-cigarettes, cigarettes, cigars and hookah tobacco contain nicotine.
The pouches are increasing in popularity and are placed between the cheek and gum. They contain nicotine, flavourings, sweeteners and plant-based fibres and are known to come in colourful packaging.
Even if advertising may make them look convenient and appealing, it’s imperative to discern that these products provide varying amounts of the addictive chemical nicotine, which can negatively impact learning, attention span and susceptibility to dependence.
Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary in October 2020 declared the registration of a brand of nicotine pouches in Kenya illegal and directed the Pharmacy and Poisons Board to deregister them.
The CS later allowed the sale of the products on condition that they are registered as tobacco products. They were introduced in Kenya in 2019 from Sweden and had gained popularity among the youth during the Covid-19 pandemic when nightclubs and other entertainment places were shut down.
When consumed at high levels, nicotine can lead to poisoning and death, but the most common problem with the chemical is its addictive nature. It reconfigures how the brain operates and makes people crave tobacco products.
When consumed, users get a slight, brief high from a rush of endorphins (hormones released by the body when in pain or stress). Nicotine also increases the levels of dopamine (hormones that allow feelings of satisfaction, pleasure and motivation) in the reward circuits of the brain. This makes people want to keep taking products containing nicotine.
The Food and Drug Administration in the US has also not strictly categorised these products as smokeless or combustible tobacco, hence, not heavily regulated. The long-term health impact of nicotine pouches is still unknown, hence, the need for research as to the effects they have on the users and the environment.
The most immediate and visible side effects of nicotine pouches use can include irritation of the gums, sore mouth, hiccups, nausea and most importantly, nicotine addiction, which increases relapse risk with other tobacco products.
As with other unsafe, addictive, psychoactive drugs legally used by adults, which include alcohol and cannabis, it is in the interest of tobacco control advocates to prevent the use of nicotine, including nicotine pouches, by youth.
In addition, institutions of higher learning need to re-focus their energies on better understanding the effects of nicotine pouches so as to assist policymakers to make informed decisions on their effects.
Public confusion on the distinctive dangers of combusted and non-combusted products will ultimately be greatly corrected by the findings of research into some of these products. But the bottom line is that there is a need for concurrence that from a medical point of view, no addictive substances are safe.
Manager, Corporate Communications-Nacada