Why do so many top athletes use smokeless nicotine?

When we think of nicotine, we usually think of cigarettes and smoking. And it is definitely not something we associate with elite-level sportspersons. However, nicotine can be consumed via other methods, including pouches (also known as snus) that are placed on the gums. In fact, many top sports performers use these pouches as a means of relaxing. These pouches provide the stimulation of nicotine without the need to inhale smoke.

Widespread use

Nicotine is stronger than other stimulants such as caffeine, and many sports stars have confessed to using it to unwind and relax. Leicester City star Jamie Vardy was photographed holding a tin of snus during Euro 2016 and admitted being introduced to it by another player. He had previously smoked cigarettes when playing for Fleetwood Town. He and former Liverpool star Charlie Adam also suggested that a lot more players use snus than most people realise. In fact, more high profile footballers have been found to be following snus accounts on social media. And, in 2016, Manchester United defender Victor Lindelof posted a photograph of a tin of snus on his Instagram page.

Is snus legal in the UK?

Due to current legislation, you cannot buy snus over the counter in the UK but it is not illegal to possess it or use it. The same is true across most of the EU, but it can be bought in Sweden where it is produced. There are also companies located in zones outside of the EU such as Andorra that sell snus legally online, with free world wide shipping to many countries, including the UK. According to figures, in Norway, another non-EU country, more people use snus than smoke cigarettes.

In US sports, the use of smoke-free nicotine products including snus, patches, gum and chewing tobacco is thought to be widespread, and such practices have been linked to baseball since the 1950s. In US ice hockey, it is claimed that between 30 and 50 percent of players use smokeless tobacco products. But why do so many athletes use them?

Does it enhance performance?

There has been no evidence to suggest there are any direct performance-enhancing properties to nicotine consumed this way. However, a couple of studies into gum and patches suggested they could be linked to improvements in exercise endurance and muscular strength. Other research has shown that regular users may maintain an “allostatic state” (feeling normal) by using snus. This could be interpreted as improving performance by achieving stability – or a sense of stability, at least.

The truth of the matter might be that it simply allows players to “chill out”. These were the words used by Vardy when quizzed about his snus use. Top sports stars face a relentless amount of pressure and adhere to very strict diets and exercise regimes. While some may smoke cigarettes or drink to relax, these practices have been shown to have a negative effect on physical performance. Snus provides them with an alternative.

With most studies into the effects of snus on sportspersons inconclusive, it is expected that more research will be carried out to determine the short and long-term effects of using the products.

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