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What Does "Tobacco-Free" Actually Mean?

What Does "Tobacco-Free" Actually Mean?
Posted in: Science & Research

One of the alluring perks of choosing to use a nicotine pouch is that they are tobacco-free. For those who have had negative effects from tobacco or who choose to avoid it for other reasons, staying away from tobacco is important while still getting the boost of a quality nicotine product.

So, how can something have nicotine but be made without tobacco? What is the meaning of the phrase “nicotine-free?” We share some details about how this determination is made and which products can claim to be free of tobacco.

What is the definition of "tobacco-free"?

A nicotine product can be labeled tobacco-free or tobacco-leaf-free if it doesn’t have any tobacco leaf in its ingredients. However, this doesn’t mean it lacks nicotine.

Currently, tobacco-free nicotine is captured in one of two ways:

  • Synthetic, or made in a lab
  • Natural, or extracted from the tobacco plant

Both methods are now regulated by the FDA as tobacco products, even though they don’t technically contain tobacco.

What is the difference between synthetic nicotine and real nicotine?

Synthetic nicotine is made in a lab, not using actual tobacco plants. Real nicotine (or natural nicotine) is taken from the tobacco plant but doesn’t contain any tobacco leaf material.

Synthetic nicotine wasn’t always regulated in the same way that natural nicotine was, since the FDA had yet to come up with a way to classify it. In April 2022, however, the FDA started to oversee synthetic nicotine products in the same way as natural ones, including requiring that they be sold to adults only.

As far as how these products work, they are pretty much the same. Those who favor synthetic nicotine will say that the nicotine is “purer” or “cleaner.” There are zero traces of any tobacco impurities in the nicotine, since it’s made without it. It’s possible to have more control over the manufacturing process, as well. 

There’s no need to farm plants, harvest, and then look for the best plants to create nicotine. They just create it in a lab with fewer variables, which may be more efficient if they are just going to use the nicotine, anyway. It is not necessarily cheaper. The cost of creating synthetic nicotine varies, and it may factor into what you pay for your nicotine pouch tin.

Could you tell the difference between the two?

Could you tell the difference as a consumer between synthetic and natural nicotine? Possibly not. Just know that seeing a label with “tobacco-free” on it may not give you the whole picture of which type of nicotine you are getting. Read the label or research further to find out more. Most of the manufacturers’ website FAQs tell what kind of nicotine they use.

How is naturally-derived nicotine made?

While the process may be different from brand to brand, one method is to steam the nicotine out of the tobacco leaf and blend it with resin. This becomes nicotine polacrilex. 

Another method is to create nicotine salts with freebase nicotine and benzoic acid to make nicotine bitartrate dihydrate. This is a pharmaceutical-grade version of naturally-occurring nicotine salt. One benefit if using this method is that the salt component protects against oxygen degradation of the nicotine pouch.

Are nicotine pouches tobacco-free?

Nicotine pouches differ from snus or tobacco pouches in that they contain no tobacco leaf ingredients. For this reason, they are considered tobacco-free.

Depending on the way the nicotine is derived, it's possible that the tiniest amount of tobacco material could be inside the nicotine, but it’s not enough for most consumers to notice or mind. Also, while synthetic nicotine is made without the use of a tobacco plant, the FDA still considers any products that use it to be classified as tobacco products.

So, to recap:

  1. Both synthetic and naturally-derived nicotine pouches are considered tobacco-free.
  2. Naturally derived nicotine in pouches could have trace amounts of tobacco in them, but it’s negligible.
  3. Both “tobacco-free” product options are regulated and sold like tobacco products in the U.S. and require identification and purchase by those 21 and older.

The bottom line on nicotine pouches

If you're reading this article, it's probably because you need reassurance that nicotine pouches are, in fact, a tobacco-free way to get your nicotine fix. They certainly are, and they are free of those other annoying side effects from tobacco, too. Avoid stained teeth, bad breath, spitting or smoke, and yellow fingers, but get the nicotine you want, when you choose a nicotine pouch.


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