• April 18, 2024

The Looming Backlash

 The Looming Backlash
Photo: Swedish Match

Cracking down on Zyn will only harsh the buzz around the office.

By Peter Clark

The calls from Representative Chuck Schumer to “crack down” on Zyn nicotine pouches may harsh the buzz around the office. 

A recent Bloomberg article found that this product has been gaining popularity among office workers. In the third quarter, Philip Morris International saw a 66 percent jump in sales.

Schumer may aim to shield developing brains from nicotine, but only 1.5 percent of middle schoolers and high schoolers use nicotine pouches. Flavored nicotine products are critical to adults quitting smoking because they break the connection between nicotine and tobacco.

If regulation is too heavy-handed, adults will be clamoring for their trusty pack of Marlboros. This initiative is a drag on workplace productivity for the following reasons: more smoke breaks, less focused employees and time lost to illness.

Restricting Zyn pouches may make workers revert to cigarettes, and this is bad for business. The average smoke break is between 10 minutes and 15 minutes long. These constant breaks add up to approximately an additional week of vacation time.

Not only is this unjust for nonsmokers, but employers feel the pinch. Studies have estimated that smoke breaks cost companies $3,077 ( per employed smoker) annually. Banning flavors and reducing the nicotine content in Zyn will have workers running for the nearest designated smoking area. 

Schumer’s demand for regulation overstates the risks and overshadows the benefits. This fear-mongering stems from what Jeffrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, refers to as “Nicotinophobia.” The association between the dangers of cigarettes and harm reduction products that contain nicotine.

Zyn pouches contain isolated nicotine salt but no tobacco. The danger lies in thousands of chemicals composing cigarette smoke. E-cigarettes also deliver nicotine without tobacco smoke. Public Health England has deemed them 95 percent safer than traditional cigarettes. If we have a safer alternative, it is foolish to ignore its benefits as a nootropic. 

Studies have found that smokers report that nicotine has “beneficial effects on concentration and memory.” Nicotine also enhances performance on complex tasks. A double-blind study by Nature found that administering small amounts of nicotine (1 mg) boosted performance on intricate tasks. Past research even suggests that nicotine improves “IQ-related tasks.” Nicotine’s impact on IQ has caught the attention of tech mogul Peter Thiel, who has flirted with the idea of using nicotine patches for the nootropic effects.

Banning or restricting nicotine pouches would have a negative impact on the productivity of former smokers who are Zyn converts. When a nicotine addict tries to quit, they experience temporary cognitive decline. Experts in the field of addiction treatment have observed that withdrawal feels “like the opposite of the drug.” Nicotine is no exception. A 2017 study conducted by the Pennsylvania State University found that nicotine deprivation among smokers had an adverse impact on working memory, “which is critical for our understanding of motivated decision-making.” Other researchers have found that nicotine withdrawal is also associated with decreased reaction time and a decline in verbal and spatial memory

If Zyn users revert to cigarettes, employers will also suffer from reduced productivity due to smoking-related illnesses. The U.S. economy suffers over “$365 billion in lost productivity each year” because of tobacco-related ailments. Not only do chronic diseases contribute to lower productivity, but smokers are also at higher risk for infections—a 12 percent higher risk for viral infections and a 48 percent greater chance of “being diagnosed with respiratory illness,” leaving co-workers to pick up the workload of their sick peers, putting them under unnecessary stress.

Lawmakers need to realize that targeting Zyn for the sake of America’s youth is misguided. Few kids are using this product, but the harm to adults extends beyond smokers. The impact of smoking-related loss in productivity reverberates throughout the economy. Making Zyn products less appealing to smokers will have our workforce taking excessive breaks, being less focused and being more likely to call out sick. If Schumer wants to tackle a public health crisis facing teens, he should look into automobile accidents, the leading cause of death among teens.