Joseph Hart 31 July 2023


A recent article in Ouest-France highlights some of the issues and attitudes that the nicotine pouch industry must overcome in the battle to help people quit smoking.

Ouest-France is a venerable daily newspaper with around 2.5 million readers. So, it’s fair to say that they have a considerable influence on public opinion. For all you non-Francophones out there, Ouest-France means West France. The publication covers the Brittany, Lower Normandy and Pays de la Loire regions.

Sadly, their piece of nicotine pouches, or “white Snus” as they call it, falls below the journalistic standards you might expect from a prominent newspaper.

What did Ouest-France have to say about nicotine pouches?

The thrust of the article focused on regulatory matters affecting nicotine pouches in France. In particular, it cited the example of the ban on nicotine pouches that came into effect in neighbouring Belgium on July 1st and the Netherlands’ position on the harm-reduction product. However, the framing of their argument is particularly troubling.

The author talks about Snus and its legal status in Europe, stating that it is banned in the EU, except in Sweden and Norway. Then, they claim that nicotine pouches are an attempt at “subterfuge” by manufacturers who can’t legally sell Snus in the rest of the EU.

Subterfuge is a strong word. It’s also a French word, so there’s no chance it’s been mistranslated here. The position that they are broadcasting to their readers is that they’re being tricked, and they should watch out.

Let’s take a quick look at where they’ve fallen short.

What Ouest-France gets wrong

Some of the usual hallmarks of reporting on tobacco harm-reduction products are present in the article: namely, the inability of the author to distinguish between products that contain tobacco and products that don’t. Portions of the piece use Snus and nicotine pouches interchangeably as if they are the same thing.

Another classic trope is there, too, in the form of a lack of acknowledgement that nicotine and tobacco are distinct products with different risk profiles.

To complete the hat-trick of weak journalism, the only opinions that Ouest France bothers to present are that of Bernard Basset of Addictions France and the EU’s Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides.

When added to the paranoid assumption that nicotine pouches are the result of a nefarious Big Tobacco plot to introduce a “stepping stone” to smoking, we have a toxic brew. 

No evidence suggests that nicotine pouches or Snus lead to smoking. As we’ve pointed out before, it’s the opposite. If pouches or Snus were gateways to smoking, the rise in the use of these harm-reduction products should accompany a rise in cigarette use. But that’s not happening, so how can they keep pushing this narrative?

Another point to note is that smoking prevalence in France is 33%. That’s way higher than the EU rate of around 23%. The presence and availability of harm-reduction products like nicotine pouches could drive down that rate and reduce cancer and other smoking-related deaths. 

Omitting that perspective from the piece is a shameful disservice to the readers of Ouest-France.

Legal loophole

In the interests of balance, a concept that the author Fabien Cazenave seems unfamiliar with, there is something that the journalist managed to get right. Near the end of the article, he notes that because nicotine pouches don’t contain tobacco, they don’t fall under current tobacco control regulations, which means that tobacconists don’t have legal obligations towards the sale of the product to minors.

This point is important. Ensuring that nicotine pouches are not accessible to youths is essential. That aim can be achieved through sensible regulation and strict enforcement of laws prohibiting the sale of the product to minors. We don’t need to ban wine for everyone to ensure younger generations don’t have access to it. So why should nicotine pouches be any different?