Nicotine pouches a growing problem in Czech schools
An increasing number of Czech teenagers and young adults are using nicotine pouches, which are available in shops without any restrictions. The use of nicotine pouches is spreading even among younger children in primary schools, who are especially at risk of overdosing or developing an addiction.
Unlike cigarettes, nicotine pouches do not contain tobacco leaf, but a form of dehydrated nicotine with added flavourings and sweeteners. The pouches are used by being placed between the lip and gum. Via the mucous membranes in the mouth, the nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream.
The strongest pouches can contain up to 50 milligrams of nicotine, which is significantly more than a cigarette, and their use, especially by children, can easily lead to overdose. Ilona Martochová is a prevention methodologist at a primary school in the south Moravian town of Adamov.
“We have already registered a case of nausea in one of our classes. Some of our pupils told me they had tried it and it made them very sick. So it is really dangerous. It is targeted specifically at young people, because it is available, relatively cheap and it is sold in attractive packaging.”
Experts say that just like other tobacco products, nicotine pouches can be very addictive. According to Marek Lžičař, an addictologist at St. Anne’s University Hospital in Brno, children can develop an addiction in just a few weeks.
“The risk of addiction is huge for anyone, both for children and adults, and it shouldn’t be downplayed. It is definitely risky behaviour that could be a gateway to the use of other tobacco products. It could also lead to the use of softer or harder drugs.”
Despite the risk, current legislation in the Czech Republic does not regard nicotine pouches as tobacco products and therefore their sale is not regulated in any way.
The Czech Ministry of Health wants to address the issue with a new decree, says its spokesman Ondřej Jakob:
“We are aware of the problems this causes. We are working on a decree that would determine the properties, the labelling and the regulation of the product. We are also working on an amendment to the current legislation.”
According to Mr. Jakob, the new decree could come into force within just a few months’ time. Meanwhile, schools across the country, including the one in Adamov, are trying to address the problem by prohibiting the use of the pouches on their premises, as well as by raising awareness among students and parents.
Experts attribute the growing use of addictive substances among children to the long social isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent survey, carried out among primary school children from Prague and central Bohemia has confirmed the negative effect of the pandemic on their mental health.
According to its results, children, especially girls, are more likely to use harmful substances but also suffer from eating disorders and self-harm, than they were before the pandemic.