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Vernon News

THOMPSON: Move over cigarettes, nicotine pouches are getting the kids hooked now

February 26, 2024 - 12:00 PM



A lot can go wrong raising children, things seem to jump out of nowhere to threaten their health and welfare. I never had children, so how do I know? Well, maybe part empathy, part intelligence. But the shorter truth is, I once was one.

Few would argue that we live in a much more complex world than 60, 30, or even 20 years ago. My parents cautioned me about strangers…talking to them…and certainly getting in a car or going with them anywhere. Strangers pose the same risks today, but other dangers lurk that are exponentially larger...and more insidious.

For example, if I asked you, “What is Zynbabwe?” What would you say…a country in Africa? No, not Zimbabwe. Sometimes it simply goes by Zyn…or “upper deck lip pillow”…or by one of thousands of puns, like…TarZyn, Zynnston Churchill, Oprah Zynnfrey or Tucker CarlZyn.

If you’re confused…wondering WTF I’m talking about…ask your teenager because he or she will likely know. Some threats never really go away. When I was growing up it was cigarettes. The same multi-billion-dollar corporations that pushed smoking tobacco in my youth, continue to look for new ways of addicting folks.

But tobacco is passé…no touting that unhealthy plant that killed so many of our fathers. Today Zyn gives you nicotine…or as the manufacturer says, “Zyn is made up of high-quality nicotine and food-grade ingredients. The pouch itself is made from plant fibres, specially designed to release nicotine while feeling comfortable under your lip.”

You can thank the Swedes for coming up with this jewel. Way back in the 18th century, Swedes and Norwegians used snus (rhymes with moose), which was moist tobacco and by the 1970s put it in little pouches that you put under your lip.

Zyn is less noticeable and less likely to incur the wrath of non-smokers and non-vapers, so what possibly could go wrong? You place Zyns under you lip like old-fashioned dipping tobacco or snuff. But no spitting needed…see how healthy this habit is?

Back in 2016, Swedish Match “had a smart idea” - their words not mine - and asked, “What if we took the tobacco out…and replaced it with refined, high quality nicotine?” Don’t you like the way they make it sound so healthy…so folksy?

Phillip Morris Tobacco Company acquired Zyn in 2022…and sold more than 100 million cans of these pouches in the U.S. last year...more than $500 million.

Imperial Tobacco Canada makes a version, called Zonnic, claiming its product is not intended for or marketed to those under the age of 18. More on that later. Zonnic started appearing in convenience stores across Canada last October.

Our elected and appointed officials in Ottawa are now trying to close the “loophole” for advertising the product in Canada…a loophole they created when they originally approved the sale of these flavoured nicotine pouches…with no restrictions on product advertising. It was pitched by big tobacco as a “smoking cessation” product. Healthy, right?

Now, about who this product targets. Remember Joe Camel…the garish cartoon character that propelled Camel cigarettes to record sales back in the late 1980s? R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company swore they weren’t trying to appeal to young smokers. They were, of course, lying.

Tobacco companies have a long history of lying about their products. They lied about cancer for a long time. Growing up in Florida, tobacco companies used to hire pretty girls (18 and older) to walk around downtown of my hometown on Saturdays handing out sample four-cigarette packs of new brands.

There were two theatres that played morning and afternoon movies that drew lots of teenagers…and two record shops (those discs that people played to hear music) downtown. The tobacco companies were smart enough to tell the girls not to hand out samples in front of the theatres and record shops…but I saw teenagers by the score with the samples time and time again.

Today, of course, kids have social media and the internet. Don’t get me wrong…there’s lots of good on these media…but there’s lots of bad, too, and parents trying to police what their kids see…well, not as easy as the days of three television networks.

Scores of social media “influencers” are raving about “Zyn”…making it sound like an exciting, flavourful experience that challenges your creativity to come up with a new “Zyn pun”. Political Conservative Tucker Carlson a couple months ago got so excited about “Zyn” that he exclaimed “I bet these things could cure erectile dysfunction”…a couple weeks later a Phillip Morris executive demurred with a smile, saying, “there’s no real evidence to support the claim."

The truth is…the packaging looks like candy. The ads and paid “influencers” - who often have millions of young followers - make Zyn and Zonnic sound and look like something any kid would want to try.

An ad for Zonnic posted in January on Instagram and TikTok is typical…showing a young guy (teenager?) with a toque following the voice-over directions: “Pop it in your mouth…Tuck it under your lip…and it tingles.”

Remember being a kid? Adolescents think in the present. They are just starting to be able to gather information from limited experience, analyze it, and make critical decisions about future choices and consequences.

Smoking causes cancer, but when you talk to young folks, it’s more effective to point out short-term consequences like bad breath and loss of athletic ability than long-term consequences…like cancer…which they consider an old folks disease.

I know…it’s another brick in the wall…having to become knowledgeable about one more thing that threatens your kids’ health and welfare. You’re busy…I know. But just ask your own teenager about Zyn or Zonnic…they probably know or think they know…everything. That said, they might know more than you.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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