One in five footballers use tobacco pouches or nicotine products, survey finds

(AFP via Getty Images)

Around one in five male and female professional players who took part in a new survey are currently using snus, nicotine pouches or both.

The study by Loughborough University, commissioned by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), also identified that two out of five had tried the pouches at least once in the past.

The report states the true usage figures are “likely” to be even higher due to players not wanting to disclose use, even in an anonymous survey.

Eighteen per cent of the 628 male players surveyed, based at either Premier League or EFL clubs, said they currently used it, while 22 per cent of the 51 Women’s Super League players surveyed said they were current users.

Improved mental readiness was cited as a key perceived benefit by those using (29 and 55 per cent respectively), with 41 per cent of male players saying they used it to help relax, most commonly after training and after matches. That figure was 64 per cent among female players.

One of the 16 professional club performance and medical staff members also interviewed for the report said players used it as a “coping mechanism”.

The pouches are also used as an appetite suppressant, the report found.

However, the report also highlighted the potential negative physical impacts, in particular of using snus.

A review of available evidence suggests snus use is associated with an increased risk of oesophagus and pancreatic cancer in comparison to non-smokers, and to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

There is strong evidence of an association between snus use and mouth lesions.

Snus contains tobacco and is not legally available to buy in the UK, whereas the tobacco-free nicotine pouches - which were found to be more commonly used among players - are legal to buy. The pouches are usually placed between the upper lip and the gums.

nicotine, professional footballers' association, loughborough university, one in five footballers use tobacco pouches or nicotine products, survey finds
Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy discusses his experience with snus in his 2016 autobiography (Getty Images)

The survey found users often started using the products in a bid to fit in with other, often more senior, team-mates - for male players 56 per cent gave this as a reason, rising to 73 per cent among women.

This prevalence of use was also identified as a barrier to quitting, with one surveyed player admitting: “I have quit twice for eight months but always seem to start doing it again. (I) find it hard to quit when I’m around it all day.”

A staff member at a club said they had come across a player whose career had mainly been spent in the Premier League and Championship who described themselves as a “heavy user”, and had told the staff member: “I’d love to come off it, but I can’t. It’s just everywhere I look. Every other player’s taking it, (I) go to fill my car up and it’s at the pump stands. It’s just too easy.”

Approximately half the current users in the men’s game indicated wanting to quit within the next 12 months, but most users in the WSL did not intend to quit.

Users also reported suffering from primary indicators of nicotine dependence such as using it without awareness or intention, and short-term withdrawal symptoms were also common - cravings, irritability, restlessness and anxiety.

The report also highlights the risk of an adverse anti-doping finding if products bought online or via social media have been contaminated.

The report found club bans had not been effective in deterring use, and recommended instead personalised, external support and to avoid stigmatising those seeking help.

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