Are nicotine pouches being regulated in the UK?

Following the publication of the Government’s response to its recent call out for public opinions on smoking and vaping, it looks likely that new regulations will be introduced for nicotine pouches in the UK.

The Government has released a Tobacco and Vapes Bill factsheet which indicates it plans to extend some regulations to cover nicotine pouches and other nicotine-containing products, as well as vapes. This move is largely to avoid potential loopholes and support stronger enforcement for cutting down on underage smokers and vapers.

What are nicotine pouches and are they the same as snus?
Nicotine pouches are a tobacco-free way to deliver nicotine. They are small pouches filled with nicotine, flavourings and other ingredients that are designed to be placed under your lip and stay there for up to 30 minutes.

Snus, on the other hand, is a moist tobacco product. It is also designed to be held between the lip and gums, but due to the health risks associated with tobacco, it is banned in the UK. The two are sometimes confused, due to the fact they are used in a similar way, but nicotine pouches and snus are very different products.

How much nicotine do nicotine pouches have?
Nicotine pouches are available in a variety of different strengths and the way they’re described can change from brand to brand. For example, you might see pouches described as ‘light’ or ‘mild’ as well as ‘heavy’ or ‘extra strong’. The amount of nicotine can also range from zero (non-nicotine pouches tend to contain the kind of ingredient associated with energy drinks) all the way up to 30mg. 

How are nicotine pouches regulated?
Even though the majority of nicotine pouches have nicotine in them, they don’t fall under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 (TRPR) like nicotine-containing vaping products do. Instead, like nicotine-free vapes, they are covered by the General Products Safety Regulations 2005 (GPSR). These more general regulations are less strict than the more comprehensive tobacco regulations. This means that nicotine pouches are currently widely available in store and online and aren’t restricted to only being for sale to over 18s. There also aren’t strong regulations around advertising or packaging.

Unscrupulous sellers could use these ‘softer’ regulatory status as a way to market and sell nicotine pouches to underage users.

Are nicotine pouches age restricted?
Due to the fact nicotine pouches fall under general consumer product safety regulations, there is technically no age of sale restrictions for nicotine pouches in the UK currently. This means that sellers are not breaking any law if they sell pouches to people under the age of 18.

There is not a huge amount of data on the number of younger people using nicotine pouches, but the figures are generally considered to be low.

That said, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) does have figures on the number of young adults who say they’ve tried a nicotine pouch and, in their 2022 awareness of nicotine pouches survey, just over 5% of 18-24 year olds said they had.

While there is limited data about children using nicotine pouches, the Government’s Youth Vaping: call for evidence outcome did include comments about children using nicotine pouches. A few responses did indicate that children are accessing nicotine pouches and that their packaging and promotion is inappropriate. There were also calls for regulations to be amended to include nicotine pouches.

How popular are nicotine pouches in the UK?
Compared to other nicotine sources, nicotine pouches are relatively unknown. ASH’s 2022 survey found that less than one in a hundred (0.7%) of the GB adult population currently use them and only 3.9% have every tried them. However, it also found that they are more popular with under 35s than those who were 35 and over, with 5.4% and 3.4% respectively saying they’d tried them.

Likewise, a Tobacco-free Nicotine Pouch Use in Great Britain survey from 2020-21 found that while usage was overall low, it was on the increase and that younger men were particularly likely to be users. Overall, men were found to be over four times as likely to use nicotine pouches as women. If nicotine pouches are set to continue to rise in popularity as these surveys seem to suggest, this would be a good time for regulations such as age restrictions to be applied and for any loopholes to be closed.

Speaking to Nursing Times, Sarah Brown, a paediatric respiratory consultant at Royal London Hospital, said that it was important for health professionals to be able to counsel parents about the dangers of nicotine poisoning to children and called for the collection of further data around nicotine pouch usage and perception.

What has the Government proposed when it comes to nicotine pouches
As part of their response to the open consultation, the UK Government (including Northern Ireland Executive and Welsh Government) outlined that they have existing power to introduce age restrictions on nicotine pouches. The Scottish Government would like to introduce similar powers.

The Government proposes using these powers to restrict nicotine pouches in the same way that nicotine and non-nicotine containing vapes will be restricted. This would mean adding, for example, specified nicotine warnings and an age restriction that means they can only be sold to over 18s. It would also mean that free samples of these products could not be provided to underage people, and that packaging could not be disproportionately appealing to children.

Timeline of recent Government proposals
11 April 2023 – An eight week ‘Youth vaping: call for evidence’ is issued by the Government as a way to identify ways to reduce youth access to vape products, including an understanding of pricing. 441 responses are received from individual citizens and organisations.

12 October 2023 – The Government opens a new consultation. ‘Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping consultation: response’ and invites responses from the general public and includes questions around nicotine pouches.

7th November 2023 – The King’s speech includes an endorsement for smoking and vaping legislation that  could reduce the rates of smoking related disease.

6 December 2023 – The Government closes its consultation and the 28,000 responses are collated.

28 January 2024 – Government plans to ban disposable vapes and introduce other measures to tackle youth vaping are shared by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

29 January 2024 – The Government’s full consultation outcome is published. The Government outlines subsequent measures that it plans to take forward, including new regulations around nicotine pouches.

20 March 2024 – A Tobacco and Vapes Bill: vapes and other nicotine products factsheet policy paper is released by the Government, outlining detailed proposals for changes to legislation.

1 April 2025 – The proposed date given in the Tobacco and Vapes Bill for when these regulations will be introduced should the bill pass, this is to align with the disposable vapes ban.