The sale of nicotine pouches was deregulated at the beginning of April. Nicotine pouches, which fall under the scope of the Medicines Act, are now subject to tobacco and chemical regulations. Nicotine pouches with high nicotine concentrations are harmful to health, and young people are particularly at risk. Nicotine pouches should be subjected to stricter regulations promptly.
Fimea, the Finnish Medicines Agency, recently changed the interpretation of the law regarding nicotine pouches that do not contain tobacco. As a result of this change, it is now possible to sell nicotine pouches in stores, kiosks, and gas stations. The regulation of tobacco substitutes is more lenient than other nicotine products, so the range of flavors and nicotine concentrations in nicotine pouches can vary significantly.
The increased availability resulting from the unrestricted sale of nicotine pouches raises the risk of them ending up in the hands of children and underage teenagers, especially through sharing. Even a small amount can cause nicotine poisoning symptoms, such as increased heart rate and nausea, in an inexperienced user. The nicotine content is not always specified, so the concentrations can even be dangerously high.
"The use of nicotine pouches with high nicotine concentrations by young people can lead to a serious state of poisoning. The use of nicotine products at a young age causes permanent changes in brain structure and function, which is why children and young people, in particular, need to be protected from these products," says Katri Saarela, an expert at the Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention (EHYT).
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, and the developing brains of young people are especially susceptible to addiction. Additionally, nicotine raises heart rate and can predispose individuals to arrhythmias. Studies have also found indications of nicotine's role in the development and growth of cancer cells.
According to research, fruity and candy-like flavors attract young people to the use of nicotine products. While tobacco products and nicotine liquids are prohibited from containing flavorings under tobacco law, nicotine pouches are allowed to contain flavorings. Adding flavorings to these products creates the perception of a harmless product. Combined with easy availability, this lowers the threshold for experimentation and use among children and young people.
"From the perspective of substance abuse prevention, it is important that stores do not include nicotine pouches in their selections, even if the law currently allows it. Even with age verification at the cash register, the distribution of nicotine pouches to minors occurs. The more points of purchase there are, the easier it is for the product to end up in the hands of children and young people," Saarela says.
Nicotine pouches should be promptly subjected to stricter regulations
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is preparing an amendment proposal to the Tobacco Act. It suggests adding a definition of smoke-free nicotine products, which would also cover nicotine pouches and similar products. In practice, this would mean that nicotine pouches would be subject to the same regulations as snus, for example, and could no longer be ordered from online stores.
"According to research, regulating availability is one of the most effective ways to protect children and young people from initiating nicotine product use. Therefore, it is crucial to subject nicotine pouches to stricter regulations promptly," Saarela adds.