Nicotine bags are popular among Major League Baseball players


As Major League Baseball teams transition from spring training to the regular season, players say they are replacing the once-ubiquitous smokeless tobacco cans with modern smokeless nicotine bags. And, according to Fox Sports, ZYN, the market leader in nicotine bags in the United States, is the favorite brand of most major league players.

Of course, baseball players might just refer to all nicotine bags as ZYN — just as people refer to all facial tissues as kleenex. But ZYN rules the fast-growing nicotine bag market (64.9 percent of U.S. nicotine bag sales in the second quarter of 2022), so it could also dominate baseball locker rooms.

ZYN maker Swedish Match was recently bought by tobacco giant Philip Morris International for $16 billion.

Major league Baseball and smokeless tobacco: 1869-2016

Baseball players use smokeless tobacco all the time. When professional baseball began – just after the Civil War – chewing tobacco was by far the most popular form of tobacco use in the United States. In fact, mass-market machine-rolled cigarettes didn’t appear for more than a decade after the earliest professional baseball games.

It doesn’t matter, because it’s almost impossible to smoke or smoke a cigar while playing baseball anyway. But pitching, hitting, and catching a ball can easily be done with a dip or a chew.

Thus, for nearly 150 years, baseball was associated with the use of smokeless tobacco. Tobacco companies sponsored teams, issued the first baseball cards and advertised on the outfield walls of ballparks from coast to coast, from Canada to Latin America.

But baseball’s love affair with smokeless tobacco was rudely interrupted in 2016, when the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball players and owners banned the use of smokeless tobacco by new players. The agreement also forces veteran players who are able to remain immersed through the grandfather clause to leave their Copenhagen and Cheers cans in the clubhouse during the tournament.

Around the same time, the Campaign for Smoke-free Kids launched an initiative to ban smoking and smokeless tobacco inside major league stadiums. As of 2022, 16 of the 30 MLB parks have banned tobacco use by players and spectators under rules or local or state laws. Even players who are allowed to continue using tobacco (due to the grandfather clause of the agreement) are prohibited from using tobacco in those 16 parks. (Minor league baseball banned smokeless tobacco in the early 1990s, but the rule has been widely ignored and rarely enforced.)

But in the meantime, Big League is looking for ways to quit (or hide) tobacco use, and with it comes a new nicotine product that does the same thing as going smoke-free but doesn’t violate the collective bargaining agreement – because it doesn’t contain tobacco.

Nicotine bags are taking over

Nicotine has well-known benefits that make it attractive to professional athletes. It improves attention, working memory, and reaction time, and helps people who have trouble paying attention to concentrate. But smoking or vaping while playing physically demanding games really doesn’t work.

It’s not just baseball players who use some form of oral nicotine product. Football players have long used smokeless tobacco, and many hockey players (see NHL star Alex Ovechkin below) use snuff or cigarette packs. In 2002, of more than 400 Finnish athletes sponsored by the National Olympic Committee, 25 percent said they used oral smoke. A 2017 study showed that athletes believe nicotine helps their performance.

It’s clear why nicotine bags like ZYN are growing in popularity – in baseball and other sports, as well as among the nicotine-using public. They provide nicotine, which many people enjoy, and pose no known health risks. Like FDA-approved nicotine gums and pastilles, they contain only medical-grade nicotine, flavoring, and cellulose fillers.

While almost all North American and European smokeless tobacco sold today is much safer than smoking, nicotine packs eliminate tobacco altogether. It’s hard to imagine a safer nicotine product. Despite the cries of anti-nicotine fanatics, baseball players and other adults don’t have any health-based reasons why they shouldn’t be used. (However, the FDA has still not approved any nicotine bags for marketing.)

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher JT Brubaker told Fox Sports that he switched from cans (dipping sauces) to bagged snuff a few years ago and hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve heard stories about the old clubs, the tins of dips everywhere.” Brubeck told Fox. “But it’s different now. Zyns is taking over, man.”


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