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The War On Nicotine Is A War On Vitality

By trying to take down Zyn, the federal government is seeking to suppress the vibrant, youthful spirit that once defined America.


“I’m starting to think that the government hates when young people are having fun,” a friend sardonically remarked to me recently in reference to the Food and Drug Administration’s continued campaign against the sale of nicotine products. While said in jest, the quip seemed to contain an element of truth. 

Recently, a legal challenge has forced the popular nicotine product Zyn to halt its online sales. This development follows the FDA’s decision to issue 119 warnings to retailers who carry Zyn nicotine pouches for allegedly selling the product to minors. Coincidentally, these actions occurred only a few months after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer condemned the product, imploring the FDA to investigate further.

In light of these actions, it seems Zyn has entered the crosshairs of the FDA’s jihad against nicotine consumption.

Not too long ago in 2018, the FDA issued a warning against flavored nicotine products, and in 2020 banned the sale of most flavored vape pods, slashing the popular American retailer Juul’s sales. A few years later, the FDA ordered a halt on all Juul products, including their two remaining flavors, tobacco and menthol.

These FDA policies destroyed Juul’s business and created a massive gap in the market. Conveniently for some, there hasn’t been a crackdown on disposable flavored nicotine devices from foreign countries (often China), such as Breeze Vapes and Geek Bars. They immediately took Juul’s place and have faced no ban, continuing to be popular to this day.

Zyn, a discreet flavored nicotine pouch, has grown in popularity since these bans. Enthusiasm skyrocketed last year, with a 62 percent increase in sales. Influencers on TikTok and public figures such as Tucker Carlson and Joe Rogan have contributed to the surge in popularity. It’s also become a staple of the trending “White Boy Summer,” which derives its name from a rap song written by actor Tom Hanks’ son, Chet Hanks. “White Boy Summer” conjures nostalgia for frats, vitality, Lana Del Rey’s American mythos, and the early 2000s marketing campaigns of Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister. 

Nostalgic Americana and nicotine go hand in hand. Zyns and cigarettes remind us of an active America, when the working class was strong, industry flourished, and youth culture was vibrant. Before the malaise of today’s cultural stagnation, America was full of energetic and ambitious people, people who were proud of their heritage.

We’d managed to maintain two entirely different, yet equally American, cultural hubs on the East and West Coasts. Our adventurous spirit had yet to be conquered, fueled by the tobacco cultivated in the great interior of our country. From the Jersey Shore to the glamorous beaches of Southern California, to be American was to be beautiful and thin with a heater in hand.

Cigarettes are the perfect excuse for a step outside, a breath of fresh air, and, as Ann Coulter once said, “give people a 5-minute limit on conversation time, like an unobtrusive little hourglass.” They allow us a sort of pensive communal moment, like the American Indian around the campfire, simultaneously easing nerves and energizing the mind. Cigarettes were the first thing Paul Simon grabbed when he “walked off to look for America.”

The association of nicotine with productivity and adventure isn’t simply due to an American nostalgia campaign launched by artists and corporations; it’s rooted in reality.

Nicotine is a nootropic — a brain stimulant. This contributes to its addictiveness, but it’s also why it’s associated with vitality and energy. It can calm your nerves by producing dopamine, while simultaneously making one alert and improving memory and cognition. A study published by the National Library of Medicine stated that “nicotine has cognitive-enhancing effects. Attention, working memory, fine motor skills and episodic memory functions are particularly sensitive to nicotine’s effects.” The adverse effects of nicotine consumption are well documented, but so are the benefits. 

Contrast these benefits to the effects of marijuana — sloth, paranoia, even schizophrenia. Though marijuana is still illegal in six of the 50 states, daily marijuana consumption has outpaced that of daily alcohol consumption. An estimated 40 percent of marijuana users consume daily, a trait more congruent with that of tobacco use than alcohol use, yet there are far greater dangers posed by excessive marijuana consumption, such as cannabis-associated psychosis. Additionally, excess marijuana use is proven to have much more debilitating side effects. It can affect normal brain development, leading to problems in learning, memory, coordination, reaction time, and judgment.

Anecdotally, I can quickly recall instances where friends or classmates became losers and recluses, failed classes, got fat, and had nasty breakouts due to their routine marijuana use. Interestingly enough, my friends who smoked cigarettes and used Zyns were funny, social, beautiful, and intelligent people with strong opinions who wrote wonderful papers and were universally considered pleasant company.

The war on nicotine could be seen as an intrusive but benevolent public health measure. However, when contrasted with increased marijuana use throughout the country, it seems monomaniacal at best and subversive at worst. Amid this war against nicotine consumption, the use of marijuana products has been legalized and popularized. People use a wide variety of smoke or vapor products to inhale the easily accessed depressant, and all sorts of edible versions are available with no interference. When I think about the FDA’s concern about marketing nicotine to children, I wonder if they’re aware of the readily available THC gummy bears I could buy down the street.

It comes then as a shock that the FDA, which has been so fascistically focused on the regulation of nicotine products, would willfully ignore the unprecedented growth of a new drug market. Their goal, openly, is to eventually eliminate the use of tobacco products, which have far fewer behavioral side effects. Unless it isn’t a concern for public health, but rather a covert war on a wily and witty young America — one that could question its leaders and write provocative essays holding them accountable for their anti-American policies. 

Maybe the FDA just doesn’t know how prevalent marijuana use is or how bad it is for us. And maybe they also don’t know about the many benefits of nicotine. Or maybe the government isn’t altruistic. Maybe the FDA’s war on nicotine is just a war against vitality.

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