Facebook adverts mislead on 'benefits' of nicotine pouches

Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration regulatory authority has warned it has not approved any nicotine pouch products as treatments to help smokers kick their habit after a series of misleading Facebook adverts circulated online. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also said nicotine pouches can induce nicotine addiction. 

"Nicotine pouches are a therapeutic product that through an oromucosal application, aids in smoking and vaping cessation," read a Facebook advert from January 26 targeting Australians.

Nicotine pouches are white pouches placed between the cheek and gum. They contain nicotine but not tobacco (archived link).

A screenshot of the misleading post, captured on February 15.

It is illegal to advertise or supply nicotine pouches in Australia under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. Doing so can be punishable by five years in prison and a fine (archived link).

The misleading post also promoted snus, a tobacco product that is usually applied in sachets for oral use (archived link). 

Australia has banned oral tobacco products such as these since 1991, according to the Therapeutic Goods Administration's (TGA) website (archived link). 

Similar adverts were shared on Facebook here, here and here

'Potentially harmful'

The posts misleadingly promoted the nicotine pouches as a "therapeutic product", when in fact they had not been registered by the TGA.

No nicotine pouches are listed on the agency's official register of approved therapeutic goods, as of February 20, 2024 (archived link).

A TGA spokesman told AFP on February 13 that the agency had not approved any nicotine pouches product in Australia, adding there was no evidence they were effective in treating nicotine addiction.

"The effectiveness of nicotine pouches for these purposes is not yet known, and their widespread marketing and use in the community is potentially harmful," he said.

University of Sydney Public Health Associate Professor Becky Freeman said she was not aware of any nicotine pouch products that had been approved by the TGA (archived link).

“Therapeutic goods are generally required to be listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (the ARTG) following assessment by the TGA," she told AFP.

"To our knowledge, there are no nicotine pouch products that have been assessed by the TGA and entered on the ARTG."

According to the WHO, there is limited data on nicotine pouches as they have only been on the market for a short time.

Such pouches contain "sufficient nicotine to induce and sustain nicotine addiction",  read a report published by the United Nations' agency on August 23, 2023 (archived link).

"A cautionary approach is warranted, given their similarities to conventional oral tobacco products, in particular snus," it added.

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