Former smokers and nicotine pouch users want to keep easy access to cessation product

B.C. government and anti-smoking groups want to keep pouches away from kids

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By ANNABEL BESSEM

Nicotine pouch users are opposed to the B.C. government’s recent decision to regulate the sale of the product by limiting its sale to solely in pharmacies, saying it is an integral part of smoking cessation.

Last month, the provincial government announced the restriction in an effort to deter minors  from buying pouches.

University of Alberta student William Peebles, a former smoker, said he used nicotine pouches to kick the habit after smoking for a decade after seeing an ad at a vape store.

“Nothing had been able to make me stop,” he said. “I just grabbed one of those instead, and then now, my lungs are good, I feel good,” said William Peebles, University of Alberta student

“Nothing had been able to make me stop,” he said. “I just grabbed one of those instead, and then now, my lungs are good, I feel good,” he said.

Peebles said what the B.C. government is doing is keeping the product from smokers who need it to quit.

“It makes sense to have it in the place where people buy their cigarettes,” he said. “Unless you’re going to move cigarettes to the pharmacy, I don’t think it makes sense.”

Under the new measures, nicotine pouch products, such as Zonnic, will only be sold over the counter at pharmacies without needing a prescription. The pouches are no longer sold elsewhere such as vape shops and gas stations. 

According to the latest Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine survey published last September, 30 per cent of teens aged 15 to 19 have vaped before.

Zonnic, a popular nicotine brand, was marketed as an aid for people to quit or cut back on tobacco usage. Pouches contain around 4 mg of nicotine, while the average cigarette has 10 to 12 mg.

Victoria resident Marie Paradis, a former smoker, said nicotine pouches help quell any urges that still persist even years after quitting.

“It helps me stay on track in relation to not smoking tobacco and drinking less and being more attentive at work when I need that extra boost,” Paradis said.

Pouch advertising a hit with kids

The B.C. Tobacco and Vapour products control act prohibits tobacco and inhaled nicotine products from being sold to people under 19. Since nicotine pouches don’t contain tobacco and are not a vapour product, minors are able to buy them.

The B.C. government and organizations like Canadian Cancer Society say they worry that teens are developing nicotine addictions through these products.

“We have a new nicotine product and we have this regulatory gap once again,” said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst from Canadian Cancer Society. “We do not want a new generation to become addicted to nicotine.”

Young people aged 15 to 19 years old remain the biggest users of the addictive products, according to the cancer society. As a relatively new product in Canada, no data exists on the usage rate amongst youth, but Cunningham said the society has heard “repeat indications” from schools that minors are using pouches.

Cunningham said he’s worried that the mass advertising of the pouches could hook susceptible youth by showing users in exciting settings like playing sports or dating.

“And you know these are classic cigarette lifestyle advertising themes that over decades have been appealing to young people,” he said.

Nicotine pouches on the move to pharmacies

As part of B.C.’s smoking cessation program, the government provides up to 12 weeks of PharmaCare coverage for nicotine replacement therapy products. 

Inhalable vaping products are no longer part of this coverage, allowing nicotine pouches to be a viable replacement, according to pharmacist Angela Wong.

“Right now we’re trying not to do the inhaler products and trying to go through other products,” said Wong, who works at a Pharmasave in Surrey.

She said the province is doing a good job with the coverage, but said after the 12-week period, having pouches behind the counter at pharmacies is “kind of a barrier.”

She also said if a minor were to try buying nicotine pouches from a pharmacist, they wouldn’t stop them. 

“My belief is that if you know someone like a teenager is trying to quit, then that’s a good thing,” said Wong. “We’ll teach them how to use it, make sure they’re using it responsibly.”

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