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Snus and Athletes: Short Term, and Long Term Effects

Snus and Athletes: Short Term, and Long Term Effects



Snus, nicotine pouches, upper decks, top lips. There are so many colloquialisms to factor when it comes to writing about these nicotine-based products. Regardless of what you may call it, there are typically two versions: Traditional Swedish Snus, and Nicotine Pouches. The key difference between the two is snus is tobacco-based, and nicotine pouches are tobacco-free.

As the global popularity of these products continues to soar, athletes in most sports are the focal point for many a media. As an ex-professional soccer player myself, I will take you through the most comprehensive guide to “snus” in professional sports. Unfortunately so many athletes are shackled to discuss the topic without consequence; for those that have, they seem scripted to maintain a narrative. I intend to talk you through my truth, both the short term and long term effects of my snus usage for the past two decades, or so.



What is Snus: Is it Exclusive to Athletes or Footballers



For reference, I am going to stick to the script when mentioning these products. Snus, is the tobacco-based product, and nicotine pouches, are the tobacco-free versions of snus. Both, however, are used the same way by placing a pouch that contains nicotine between the gum and upper lip. There are so many effects of using snus and nicotine pouches I would be pushed to list them all. But, any effects associated with nicotine that you can imagine, you are probably on the right track.


I asked ChatGPT to provide me with a concise description of snus, this is what I got:


Snus is a smokeless, moist powdered tobacco product that originated in Sweden. It is typically placed under the upper lip for extended periods, allowing nicotine to be absorbed through the gums. Unlike other smokeless tobaccos, snus does not require spitting. It is available in loose form or pre-packaged in small pouches. Snus is known for its discreet use and has gained popularity for providing a tobacco alternative without the combustion involved in smoking.


I did the same for nicotine pouches, heres what it said:


Nicotine pouches are a smokeless, tobacco-free product designed to deliver nicotine through the gums. They consist of a small pouch containing nicotine, flavorings, and other fillers, which users place under the upper lip. The nicotine is absorbed through the oral mucosa, providing a discreet and convenient way to consume nicotine without spitting or the use of tobacco. Nicotine pouches are available in various flavors and strengths, catering to those seeking an alternative to traditional smoking or tobacco products.


While ChatGPT is a useful tool for finding some information, Ai does not control my narrative! If it did I would ask it the best way to get my youngest son to sleep through the night! But, in this case, ChatGPT would be pretty correct by my educated estimation. These products are not exclusive to athletes or footballers. Conversely, there was a time, that it certainly did feel that way. In 2007, the commercial landscape for snus was very different to the way it is now.




Snus and Athletes: The Background Check


I will make this extremely clear from the outset: I did not play football in the Premier League, neither did I grace the pitches of the NFL. I was a professional athlete, albeit not very professional at times! But, my background was in football, soccer some may say. I played in the Football League in the UK, also in multiple countries in UAE and South East Asia. As far as professionalism goes, I tried my best, but you could consider me one of the work hard, play hard types.



Mindset and Attitude in Professional Sports


Playing football at any level requires dedication, effort, and a mindset that, typically, is different from others. As such, professional athletes do things a little differently, hence the separation from those that play sports as a hobby, and those that are professional. It always confused me when huge music artists like R Kelly would, well, you know, do what they do. A quick reference to the Oxford Dictionary to find the definition for genius: exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability. Then, insanity: in a state of mind which prevents normal perception, behaviour, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill.


The common denominator in both genius and insanity is the tendency to think differently, whichever way you look at it. I think about my own personal rise to playing professional football, and throughout all my school years, and early adulthood, I was just different. Not saying I was R Kelly different, but definitely different with regards my approach to training and mindset toward my sport. My whole life was dedicated to being a professional footballer, and that story is the same in most of my teammates.




Discovering Snus as a Footballer


Finding snus as a professional athlete was not some moment of serendipity walking into a local store like the media would have you believe. It was, in fact, the same for me as most professional footballers, one of our teammates said give it a go. If my manager would have known I smoked ten cigarettes a day and covered it with Jean Paul Gaultier, I would have been for the chop. So, the first time one of my teammates offered me a snus, it was a game changer! Did this mean I could quit smoking? Actually it meant I would be on the pathway to quitting smoking; in fact it meant I would just use both. My nicotine consumption probably increased during the first year of snus.


The snus in 2007 was actually traditional Swedish snus, and players would go to great lengths to obtain it. Various sites sold snus outside of the UK and we would have to wait a good two or three weeks for the products to arrive. We would change our names for delivery, ordering to our girlfriends, wives or siblings. We knew, as players, we would be scrutinised by media, fans, and anyone that had an interest in our personal brands. So, most of us were careful. We would share cans, someone always had a delivery pending and so we looked after one another.



Athletic life replacing the norm


An athlete, at the highest level, has spent a lifetime sacrificing. People seem to forget that athletes are just human. When you go to the pub on a Friday or Saturday night, you probably won’t see Lionel Messi or Harry Kane. The very best athletes sacrifice every day, to be in the positions they are in. There is a stigma around anything that “normal” people are allowed to do that athletes should not. Smoking cigarettes, eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol, clubbing, and everything else that the general population accepts of everyone outside of professional sport. The pedestal on which athletes are placed is both a gift and a curse.


Imagine you were having a cheeky cigarette outside in your garden after a few beers watching the World Cup; how would you feel if someone snapped an image of your beer belly and front paged it! Paparazzi snap the most invasive images of celebrities, athletes and anyone of note to paint them in different lights to the public. Its their job, I get it. So, a life of a professional athlete can be very lonely, confined to a small circle of trust. Getting drunk and eating a doner kebab while hurling your guts on a pavement is normal for most 18-21 year olds. As a footballer you forgo typical expectations of most of the general public, because you are a footballer.



So why do Athletes try snus?


Peer pressure to try snus in a team environment that makes some people feel left out


Starved of what could be considered as normality for many others, athletes seek to create pastimes of their own. Sometimes the stereotypical cliche of watching a footballer on summer break playing golf is not enough to unwind. While some may choose yoga, or pilates, others may choose to freak their brothers’ wife - sorry Ryan Giggs. Irrespective, as an athlete you spend most of your athletic life contemplating performance and gaining both physical and psychological edge. It is the same in competition as it is in the changing room. You spend every day training to be part of the team, and every game day playing to ensure your contract and financial stability.


Is snus a bad thing for athletes. Yes, nicotine is not ideal. Is it any worse than drinking alcohol, or eating fries every day? No, there are no studies that have proved any correlation between any dangerous illness and snus.


I can agree that the overuse of any product can cause an incumbency that can be detrimental to ones physical and mental health. Paul Gascoigne drunk too much, Paul Merson gambled too much, Frank Lampard was labelled as fat. Loughborough University conducted a great study using 629 players in women’s and mens football clubs. Over 50% of these players said that they want to quit using snus within 12 months. While the prestigious Loughborough University have given some insight into usage of snus in football, does that make it conclusive? The UK has over 800,000 registered players in 40,000+ teams and 600+ leagues. On those numbers, the study that has been done is reflective of less than 0.1% of registered footballers in the UK. So, no.




Snus and Athletes: Becoming Part of the Snus Crew


My own personal experience of joining the snus crew, at the time at least, was pretty special. I felt as though I had unlocked a secret fraternity at school, becoming part of the cool crowd. For the record, the first time I used snus I was sick. At the time, the brand of choice was called Thunder, a brand that most of the players at my club used. The original portion pouches were filled with brown tobacco and they smelled pretty poor. I would try dry the pouches out a little because they were prone to producing a nasty drip of tobacco to the back of the throat. It was the drip that would sting the back of my throat and flare my asthma. Yep, professional athlete using snus, smoking cigarettes and having asthma. Absolute car crash.



Spreading the wings of snus on three continents


But, using snus, I was able to relax outside of the game. Watching movies, playing Fifa, Call of Duty in the afternoons took on a more relaxed feel for me. All of a sudden I could sleep better at night. The night time snus, as you are getting tired was probably one of the best ones you could do. Slipping into sleep with relaxing waves of nicotine was peaceful. The only problem was waking up with a brown stain on your pillow if you fell asleep with it loaded (which I did, multiple times).


I used snus all the way through my moves to different countries. I moved from Thunder to Siberia Snus, which was a stronger white portion variation, still containing tobacco. As the strength increased in my pouches, the frequency of usage decreased. I personally found the stronger pouches allowed for less frequent nicotine cravings. Every country I played in, every team that I played for, the usage of snus increased among players. I was a one man covid-snus machine in the football circuit. Was it such a bad thing? For reference, in Asia, one of my Head Coaches would ask me before a game had I taken my snus. To this day we laugh about that moment. But, with snus, I was more focused, relaxed and would perform better.




Snus and Athletes: The Mental Effects


The mental effects of snus on me as an athlete were that of any substance that you become addicted to. Using snus became a necessary part of my day, without it, I was incomplete. With snus, I had something to look forward to both before and after training (and on the sly, during). I definitely felt an incumbency that I had known all too often in smoking cigarettes. Ironically, I didn’t start smoking until I was 22 years old. By this time, I had been through a professional academy with a League One team in the UK, played for my country in under 16s, and been featured in football magazines. Nonetheless, the pressures of the game forced me to seek relaxation away from it, and snus was that relaxation.


Without my snus, I was irritable, angry, and felt volatile. With it, I felt in control, happy, and ready to take on the day. Likewise, if I had a poor performance during games, or poor training session, I would lean on my trusty Thunder or Siberia as my go to for chilling. I knew I was addicted, but it was better than alcohol, or smoking, I figured. All of my friends were footballers, and snus was a part of everything that we did both on and off the pitch.


At this point, some 16 years since my first snus, I could be asked do I regret it. Honestly, no. While I recognise it is not a healthy substance, neither is smoking, alcohol, or sugar.


On the pitch, the products offered me windows of focus, even while 5000-10000 people cheered on the sidelines. Off the pitch, they offered me relaxation, and the ability to wind down from undulant adrenaline rushes. My stress levels reduced, and I felt I had deeper mental clarity throughout my days.




Physical Effects of Snus: From the Pitch to the Sofa


I can imagine the effects of snus are subjective depending on ones’ physiology. Like with alcohol, ones composition can determine the effects of alcohol to some extent. For me, the short term physical effects were interchangeable depending on the situation. On match days using snus in the changing room before kick off would give me minutes of peace, clarity, and the ability to visualise the game while using my headphones. Sometimes, I would hit the strongest I could find to drown out the gaffer when he gave his one hour team talk after prematch meals. The snus worked particularly well on the bench when you should to support the team but you feel like throwing the water bottles at the gaffers head.


I benefitted from snus. Most of the short term effects were positive for me, and those around me. As a highly strung individual, tempestuous some might say, I struggled to be level-headed. On the pitch I was aggressive and off the pitch I was reclusive.



You reap what you Sow


In 2015, at the end of my career and relaxing in Crete at the end of the season, came my first long term effect of snus. I was chewing a handful of peanuts in the all inclusive bar and I was shocked at how brittle some of the nuts were. After I gave up trying to chew the nastiest peanuts I had ever eaten I spat them into a blank hanky. Turns out, I was chewing one of my teeth.


The tooth that broke came from the exact place in my mouth I would typically place my Siberia snus. On closer inspection I could see the receding part of the gum that had allowed the tooth the space to move a little. It was obvious to me that my snus had been part of the reason for my tooth. Luckily, being in the side of my mouth, it wasn’t going to be a problem visually. I fortunately had swerved the Michael Strahan facial, nonetheless it was uncomfortable. After further research I decided that perhaps I should try and move away from tobacco-based products.


The rise of nicotine pouches, tobacco-free variations of snus, coincided with the time I cracked my tooth. Although, at first, I hated them, I tried to come away from Siberia by using them. Over time, I managed to phase out tobacco-based snus products.



The Rise of Nicotine Pouches


Nicotine pouches rising to the top in UK, tobacco-free alternatives a game changer


As an athlete that had exclusively used Thunder and Siberia snus through the years, moving over to brands like Killa was difficult for me. The satisfaction from tobacco based products that I had spent so many years with was unmatched at first. Over time, I managed to coerce my way away from them, though.


Interestingly, over time, I gained noticeable insights into my own behaviour. Comparing nicotine pouches to snus is not apples to apples. For me, there were key differences in my psychology between the two products.


With snus, I had always felt a lack of control. I used snus routinely at certain points in the day and without using snus at these times I would have intrinsic anger or volatility. If you were to ask my wife how I behaved in the morning if I was waiting on a delivery, she would tell you. There were certain times that I would stay in bed on days off, until the delivery arrived. In hindsight, sometimes this was to save myself from human interaction for fear as to how I may react. The story became very different when I introduced myself to nicotine pouches.


With nicotine pouches, although the feeling of nicotine was similar, regardless of strength, the nicotine doesn’t feel as intense. There is something about the pure tobacco in snus that took a toll on me both mentally and physically (hence the tooth). Although I still love using nicotine pouches now, years after playing football, I do not have a necessity to use them routinely. Likewise, if I leave the house and forget a can of pouches, I feel free from the necessity to go back to collect them. I have never been able to say the same about snus. For me, nicotine pouches when I was an athlete was a game changer. I felt more stable moods, a composed level of physical wellbeing, and a better all round attitude.




Athletes and Snus, Nicotine Pouches & Everything Else


Without getting too political on what athletes do or don’t use as products in their daily life, I feel the stigmatisation of snus and nicotine pouches is unjust. Yes, they are not exactly broccoli, and could have/do have negative impacts in some instances. Likewise so does alcohol, smoking, supplements, and food. If a footballer, or model is seen eaten a bag of fried chicken and fries (respect Popeyes), one could say: Its a cheat day. But, if an athlete is seen with a can of snus or nicotine pouches, it makes front page news. Ridiculous. I say that as I sit comfortably at my desk with a red wine and Pablo for my evening writing session!


Evening writing session with my snus and red wine


We are all consumers, from the poorest to the richest, and marketing plays an impact on buying decisions. Red Bull is arguably regarded as one of the most dangerous caffeine drinks on the planet. Yet Red Bull owns some of the biggest sports franchises in the world from Formula One to soccer. Don’t even get me started on Monster Energy Drinks. However, using these products in moderation can be quite productive without being dangerous.


As human beings, our ability to self-regulate, for most of us, is poor. I drink one coffee a day, probably because I can be hyperactive as they come. And, yet using snus or nicotine pouches, came as a struggle for me. I do not comment on those guys that start the day with a bowl of Lucky Stars and a Red Bull, then end it with four beers and a bottle of wine. That is their business. Likewise, using snus or nicotine pouches should be down to the user, athlete or no athlete. Athletes have a unique position to be prime consumers of expensive products. Complaining about something they put in their mouth while you allow them to blow their wages every year on jewellery seems counterproductive. How many athletes commit suicide when finishing their careers? Or, become junkies on our streets? Netflix has multiple documentaries on the latter. Obsessing over having complete control of our athletes while they slowly kill themselves over mental health on the other side is a contradiction of all contradictions. Any other human being would be overlooked, but the public eye seeks to control an athlete’s consumer tendencies piece by piece.




Athletic Performance using Snus & Nicotine Pouches


The United States, sells over 140 million pouches of Zyn monthly through stores and websites. While the brand continues to promote on social media through influential people with one hand, the that same public chastises athletes for using these products. One rule for one and not for the other springs to mind.


Can performance be enhanced by the use of nicotine? I doubt that very much. It would be hard to envisage a player walking into the Super Bowl smoking a pack of Lucky Strike. But, could he have a discreet pouch of nicotine in his gums? Potentially. Is that such a bad thing? England international Jamie Vardy was pictured walking out of the team hotel carrying a can of snus, and paid the price. The UK are especially hot in discussing the rising trend of nicotine pouches and snus in football. I have seen articles discussing the reasons why, and that athletes should refrain, they have no need.


How people deal with their own pressures in life should be completely left up to them. Athletes are stripped of using virtually any products that enhance them physically. They also have to be mindful of the amount of caffeine they consume not to trigger the PED scales. There have been no studies that report on the physiological effects of snus or nicotine pouches benefitting athletes. There are, however, multiple sightings and comments of athletes using these products to relax, gain mental clarity, and focus. In my playing days, for me, it was all of the above. Maybe if I had found them a little earlier I would have performed better in my academy days. Who knows. One thing is for sure, the products allow snippets of the aforementioned psychological benefits - not athletic performance. So athletes are not breaking any rules.


Some athletes deal with pressure better than others. If using snus and nicotine pouches allows snippets of rest bite for athletes, what is wrong with that?




The Final Take - Should Athletes be using Pouches?


Despite what many may think, I am not an advocate of snus for athletes. I am an advocate, however, of human beings being allowed to choose their vices without being vindicated. For those sitting at their office desk with their noses turned up, would you be offended if Macbook produced your Pornhub usage to the press?! I am joking, but you catch my drift. We have choices as adults, and we should make them based on our own judgement.


Nicotine is a substance that carries stigma, that goes without saying. But, our greatest minds coming out of Oxford, Harvard or Princeton, at some point were naked drinking piss out of a condom. The judgement on these acts were left to our parents, not our public. And before this gets technical, yes I graduated in Sports Psychology major, and I did not drink piss from a condom. But, I get drunk, steal a fire extinguisher and try to fly out of a first floor window using the spray as propulsion. Other than a slap on the wrist I didn’t have to produce this piece of evidence in job interviews or to my football fans.


Athletes are smart people and they know balance more than most of the general public. Using nicotine responsibly comes with heaps of benefits for the mind. At least that is what I have found in my illustrious snus and nicotine pouch career so far. That being said, I have come to realise stark differences between tobacco-based and tobacco-free, in my own personal usage. By using nicotine pouches I am able to add to my day, not take away. I have mentally stable, have a curb on my usage due to the lack of tobacco, and feel that these products allow me some rest bite from my typical day. The percentage of people that wake in the morning and need a coffee is obscene. What if caffeine was regulated or banned?


Ultimately, these athletes are answerable to their coaches, family and employment. When you sign for a team sport you do not sign over your life. When you represent your country, you do not sign your life to that country. What an athlete chooses to indulge in, providing it does not harm others, is completely their choice. And, I am yet to see a professional athlete do a dance on TikTok and say “Kids, you should buy a can of Zyn and shove it all in your gum” Athletes are wise to be silent on the matter, we should too.




Advice for Athletes considering Snus or Nicotine Pouches


Choose carefully between using snus and nicotine pouches. When I embarked on the journey of using pouches, there was only a single option to choose from. It cost me a tooth, and it cost me a addiction that controlled me more than I did, it.


Peer pressure in the locker room is more intense than any other place on earth. If you do not want to try pouches than try to stay strong in your decision. Choosing to do something that you are not interested in could cost you in the long run.


Research your pouches. There is a wealth of knowledge from actual users of snus and nicotine pouches in brands, flavors, and strengths. I recommend using places like Reddit for information on specific brands or products.


Speak to club officials if you feel you have a problem with using snus or nicotine pouches. Nicotine is not an easy substance to abstain from once you are in. Most professional clubs have the facility to help manage addictions, (unless you’re the Pornhub guy), so reach out and talk.


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