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Ana Maria Cornea / Gavel Media

Zyns: What's the Hype?

Lately, you may have seen white rectangle patches no more than an inch long on floors and urinals in public. Those are most likely nicotine pouches which contain pure nicotine and flavorings designed to be placed between the user’s gum and lip so the substances can seep into the bloodstream. Zyn is the leading brand of tobacco-free nicotine pouches in the United States and it seems to be the next subject of Congress’ long crusade against drugs and addictive substances. 

Zyn’s parent company Philip Morris International, which owns the cigarette brand Marlboro, reported shipping 350 million cans of Zyn in 2023, a 62% growth from the previous year. PMI is expected to ship more than 520 million units this year. 

Zyn’s website states that it is for adults 21 or older who are already nicotine users. So is Zyn a healthier alternative for smokers and vapers? Studies are uncertain. Zyns can produce the tingling and dizzy sensation, also known as a “buzz,” that smokers and vapers crave. Nicotine pouches like Zyn are similar to snus, another kind of pouches containing tobacco that have been studied extensively for decades and are safe enough to be categorized as lower-risk alternatives by the FDA. Zyn won’t damage the lungs, but it still contains the addictive nicotine that poses long-term health risks such as cancer and heart diseases. There is also the risk of a smoker trying Zyn and becoming addicted to both after failing to quit cigarettes.

Regardless, it can be a cleaner and more discreet choice for people who already consume nicotine. That’s the key here: existing nicotine users. Zyn needs to be a product targeted towards and used only by adult smokers. The last thing it wants to become is just another substance for people to get hooked on. But it has. And it has reached students and teenagers resulting in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urging the FTC and the FDA to investigate Zyn’s marketing tactics and effects on younger people. 

Zyn’s example is different from nicotine epidemics in the past. Unlike Juul or other vapes, Zyn’s marketing strategies are compliant and proper. “Zyn has robust marketing practices in place to help ensure access only to those 21-plus,” a spokesperson for PMI told USA TODAY. “That includes not using social media influencers. Data shows the vast majority are previous consumers of traditional oral, vaping, and cigarette products with others coming from other nicotine product categories.” 

In reality, Zyn’s popularity among students and Gen Z can be attributed to –– like many things wrong with our generation –– social media. On platforms like TikTok, self-proclaimed “Zynfluencers” have attracted overwhelming attention from young people and #zyn gained over 715 million views as of this January. There are also several slang terms when referring to Zyn and everything related to it. A stereotypical “Zynner” might say, “I do have a Benja-Zyn,” “I gotta couple f***in’ Tempur-Pedic lip cushies, buddy,” or “Couple couch cushions for your upper deck, buddy.” These terms such as “upper” and “lower decky,” “Zynnies,” “Zynbabwe,” “Osama Zyn Laden,” and “Zyn-aloa Cartel” have all contributed to creating the culture and fandom around Zyn. Corey Henry, director of U.S. communications for PMI said they can’t “police the internet.” So, it’s hard to blame PMI or Congress for the rise of Zyn, but there are still groups fueling it.

Right-wing commentators like Tucker Carlson and Andrew Tate are vocal advocates of Zyn. On a comedy podcast, Carlson described Zyn as “a life enhancer” and it “raises your testosterone levels.” Thus, he is indirectly telling his viewers that nicotine pouches are the solution to the masculinity crisis that right-wingers are so fixated on. These figures are adored by fratty, “buddy” students, who also happen to be fervent Zyn users, so Zyn essentially depicts the new ethos around right-wing Gen Z men. 

I don’t think Zyn should concern people as much as Juul did. In November 2023, the CDC reported that only 1.5% of teenagers in the U.S. claimed to have used nicotine patches in the last thirty days. My hope is that that number does not increase. Zyn is having its moment but that doesn’t mean it should be taken off shelves and banished by Congress. Would I recommend Zyn to smokers and vapers? Absolutely. For their sake and those around them, eliminating the smell and cloud of cigarettes and vapes can be refreshing. Would I recommend it as a nootropic and aphrodisiac for non-smokers? No, as addiction in any form is harmful. 

 

Alex Cho
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