Whenever Mark Moran, chief executive officer of the investor relations firm Equity Animal, is about to perform a boring task, he has a ritual. He pops a Zyn nicotine pouch into his mouth.
Then his concentration sharpens, at least for a while. “Am I addicted to it? Absolutely,” he said. “But it’s something I very much enjoy.”
Zyn, a tiny bag of nicotine that fits under the lip, has become the latest performance-enhancing drug in certain corners of the corporate world. Like Adderall and caffeine before it, nicotine pouches contain a highly addictive stimulant. The products have sparked public health worries, even as they’ve inspired a fervent devotion among some workers in demanding industries like finance and tech.
“It’s almost become ubiquitous with juniors in the finance industry,” Moran said. “You’re working long hours, you’re bored. It’s discreet enough that you could have a Zyn in a client meeting. You could be talking to a partner. It’s culturally accepted in finance.”
Nicotine pouches are having a moment. Philip Morris International Inc. sold 105.4 million tins of Zyn in the US in the third quarter—a 66 percent jump—boosting its profit outlook for the year. In the four weeks ending Jan. 13, sales of Zyn were up 87 percent, according to a report from TD Cowen.
Meanwhile, in the first two weeks of January, US sales of smokeless tobacco and nicotine products jumped 12 percent while cigarette sales sank 10 percent. The trend is even more dramatic in Sweden. And across social media, hashtags like #Zynbabwe, #Zynladen and #Zynaccino have proliferated.
The makers of Zyn and products like it say they are intended to be a replacement for nicotine, aimed at people who want to stop using tobacco. But their wide popularity has raised alarms.
In a statement, Philip Morris said, “Our products are not for those who don’t already use nicotine products, and never for those below the legal age of purchase.” That positioning hasn’t deterred so-called #Zynfluencers, enthusiasts like Moran and even Tucker Carlson, who embrace the product for other reasons.
In Silicon Valley, Zyn and similar products have appealed to a tech demographic that has long had an interest in performance enhancers, or nootropics. Billionaire investor Peter Thiel told a reporter in November he suspects nicotine is a “really good nootropic drug that raises your IQ 10 points,” and said he was considering using patches.
Andrew Huberman, a Stanford associate professor and host of a popular health and science podcast, has mused that nicotine enhances cognitive abilities. He’s also warned of the risks, particularly for young people. His podcast, popular with the techy health-optimization set, has nearly 5 million subscribers on YouTube, and has hosted tech leaders like venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.
On tech- and finance-centric social media, references to nicotine have spread. The venture capital-focused Instagram meme account @prayingforexits mused that while the average person was made of 72 percent water, a “California hard-tech founder” was “15 percent Zyn/Lucy.” An entrepreneur on the East coast joked on X, formerly Twitter, that nicotine had fueled a big tech stock rally: “Tech’s bullish divergence began right when zyn sales skyrocketed.”
Meal replacement business Soylent, co-founded about a decade ago by David Renteln, was once the poster-child of tech world bio-hacking. Now, Renteln is the chief executive officer Lucy Goods Inc., a company that makes nicotine gum and pouches. He said many users of nicotine pouches have previously vaped or smoked.
“At least anecdotally, the people I know who consume Zyn among that office worker set previously used a different form of tobacco,” he said.
Like its competitors, Lucy is meant to be a tobacco cessation therapy—not a performance drug. That distinction is important, said Samy Hamdouche, the company’s co-founder. “As far as nootropics and people who are purely using nicotine for the cognitive benefit, our view on that is it’s a niche market,” he said.
Recently the proliferation of nicotine products has stoked controversy—particularly because these products, like vapes and cigarettes before them, can appeal to minors. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, last week called for federal action to crack down on Zyn and other brands in the US. “Today, I’m delivering a warning to parents, because these nicotine pouches seem to lock their sights on young kids, teenagers and even lower, and then use the social media to hook ’em,” he said.
Philip Morris said in a statement, “Our marketing is directed to legal-aged adults 21 + who already use nicotine products and deserve better, smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes.” Bloomberg News
Image credits: Bing Guan/Bloomberg