How addictive are ‘snus’ nicotine pouches and what do they do to your body?

From your teeth to cancer risks, the pouches pose a danger to health.

Snus products contain numerous carcinogens
Snus and nicotine pouches Snus products contain numerous carcinogens (Alamy Stock Photo)

Health experts are warning against the use of snus and nicotine pouches after it was revealed their use was prevalent among professional footballers.

It comes after a study by Loughborough University found that one in five players – both male and female – currently uses snus, nicotine pouches or both.

Of the 628 male players surveyed, 18% from Premier League or EFL clubs and admitted using them, while it was 22% from the 51 Women’s Super League players.

The report, commissioned by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), states that the true figure is “likely” to be even higher due to players not wanting to disclose use.

(Alamy Stock Photo)

It found users often started using it in a bid to fit in with other, often more senior, team-mates – for male players, 56% gave this as a reason, rising to 73% among women.

What is snus?

Snus is a smokeless tobacco product and commonly comes in small pouches containing tobacco. They are not actually legally available to buy in the UK.

More commonly used by footballers is tobacco-free nicotine pouches (although, confusingly, these are often commonly referred to as ‘snus’ too) which are legal to buy.

“Nicotine pouches contain nicotine, water, sweeteners and flavourings. It is taken the same way as snus but the main difference between the two methods is that nicotine pouches do not contain tobacco leaf,” explains Carolina Goncalves, superintendent pharmacist at Pharmica.

In both products the nicotine is is absorbed into your bloodstream through the mucous membranes of your mouth, as the pouches are usually placed between the upper lip and the gums.

How addictive is it?

“Both snus and nicotine patches are substantially addictive due to their nicotine content,” Goncalves says. They also contain “numerous other carcinogens that can increase the risk of cancers affecting the pancreas and mouth.”

These risks are empirically backed by studies published in prominent journals such as the International Journal of Cancer, she adds.

“Snus is thought to be potentially more addictive than nicotine patches [often used by smokers to quit cigarettes] because it administers nicotine more quickly to the user.

“Put simply, snus enables rapid absorption of nicotine into the bloodstream, which can increase the probability of addiction since it offers a quicker ‘hit’ than alternatives.”

(Alamy Stock Photo)

What are the health risks?

“It’s often thought that using snus is safer than smoking, when in fact this is incorrect,” says Goncalves. “While it is true that snus does not harm the lungs as much as smoking, given that it is a smokeless product, it still poses health risks to the gums, mouth, and other organs.

“The health implications of snus with tobacco differ from those of smoking cigarettes or vaping, given that it delivers nicotine to the bloodstream through the gums, as opposed to involving the inhalation of smoke or vapour.

“Studies have shown that snus which contains tobacco can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer due to the presence of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) in the product.

“TSNAs have carcinogenic properties associated with the curing and fermentation of tobacco before it is placed inside snus pouches. Certain TSNAs are directly linked to the development of pancreatic cancer, according to current research,” she says.

What about oral health?

Nyree Whitley, chief clinical officer at mydentist, said: “While snus may initially seem like an alternative to smoking or vaping, it could, like other nicotine-based products, have detrimental effects on your oral health.

“By holding the pouch against your gums for extended periods of time, the risk of developing gum disease and tooth loss is much higher than in those who don’t use nicotine-based products, and it’s a common misconception that smokeless forms of nicotine come with less risk.

More common side effects of nicotine pouches may include gum irritation, receding gums, yellowed or stained teeth, and ulcers,” she adds. “If gum disease has already become apparent as a result of nicotine pouches, it may be more difficult to reverse these side effects.

“Tobacco in any form can lead to life-altering conditions such as mouth cancer.”

(Alamy Stock Photo)

Can they be used to stop smoking?

They are sometimes used as an alternative to cigarette smoking to help people quit by curbing cravings. “The release of nicotine from these products reduces the craving and withdrawal symptoms experienced by smokers trying to quit, allowing them to satisfy their nicotine needs without inhaling smoke,” says Goncalves.

However, nicotine patches may be a more effective choice for quitting, she says. “Nicotine patches are designed to provide a slow and steady dose of nicotine, with their primary purpose being to help reduce withdrawal symptoms in individuals who are trying to stop using nicotine, such as by quitting smoking.”