A worrying new trend is emerging among US teens, with the use of flavoured oral nicotine gummies catching up to vaping.
Flavoured gummies are yet another nicotine product to be wary of, as their popularity grows in teens who use them recreationally.
The increase in popularity of e-cigarettes by young Aussies has led to widespread debate about the health impacts, especially with nicotine-based vaping products.
Earlier this year, a report from the Australian National University found that in 2019 about one in 20 young adults were currently vaping. The proportion is thought to have increased since.
Now a new study published in Pediatrics, has found flavoured oral nicotine products, which contain no tobacco but are not FDA-approved as smoking cessation aids, are rising in popularity.
These products are readily available online for purchase by Australians, and include nicotine pouches, non-therapeutic nicotine gum and lozenges and nicotine gummies – but not e-cigarettes.
Researchers from the University of Southern California found the use of flavoured oral nicotine products were the second most popular among teens after vaping.
As part of their study, they surveyed more than 3500 Southern Californian ninth and tenth graders about the nicotine products they used. The new flavoured oral nicotine products ranked second, with 3.4% of teens reporting to have used them at least once, while 1.7% had used them in the past six months.
Lead author and epidemiologist Dr Alyssa Harlow said e-cigarettes were the most popular nicotine product, with 9.6% of teens having used them at least once and 5.5% of teens having used them in the past six months. Cigarettes, cigars, hookah and other products were less popular.
“Surprisingly, these new flavoured oral nicotine products were the second most commonly used product among our sample, second only to e-cigarettes,” she said.
“Our findings are concerning because these products often have a high nicotine content, which we know is harmful to teens, and they’re really easy to hide and conceal. They also come in sweet flavours that may appeal to teens,” said Dr Harlow, pointing to flavours such as “cherry bomb” and “fruit medley”.
Exposure to nicotine during adolescence can harm brain development, cause problems with learning, memory and attention and lead to nicotine addiction.
Another interesting finding was that females were more likely than males to have used these products.
“Oral nicotine products are easily shareable and discrete, attributes which may appeal to adolescent females who tend to use nicotine for social reasons and are more likely than males to experience societal disapproval and stigma of substance use,” Dr Harlow and her colleagues wrote.
“Previous research also indicates that male youth are more likely than females to use tobacco products for the ‘nicotine rush’. Nicotine absorption through mucous membranes that occurs from oral nicotine product use is slower than lung absorption, potentially resulting in a less noticeable nicotine ‘buzz’ than smoking or vaping.”
They found that the use of flavoured oral nicotine products was more common in teens who had also used other nicotine products, such as cigarettes or e-cigarettes, Dr Harlow said.
“At this time, we don’t really know what the public health implications are,” she said. “That’s why surveillance at the national level is really the first and most important step.”