FOX Sports MLB Analyst
SARASOTA, Fla. – In 1912, the American Tobacco Company advertised its popular “Bull Durham” brand of loose-leaf chewing tobacco by erecting huge wooden statues of bulls beyond the outfield fences at most stadiums in the MLB.
Any player who hit a home run with the bull would win a $50 check and 72 “mouths” of tobacco as a reward.
At the end of the season, the company paid out $10,550 in prize money and gave away 254,700 sacks to players, but also saw sales soar in what is considered one of the most successful and influential baseball advertising campaigns of the early 20th century .
This same Bull Durham brand also inspired the Durham Bulls nickname (the team was appropriately known as the “Tobacconists” until 1912), which in turn inspired the famous 1988 film of the same name.
But even though Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate is still called the Durham Bulls today and the team still has a large bull statue that rises beyond the left-field wall, the influence of tobacco on the sport has changed quite a bit over the years to become much more… visceral.
From major leaguers with garish lumps of caw popping under their lower lips to geysers of mud-brown spot erupting over dugout railings to long-cut greenhouse records played in back pockets to the pitapat slap of the cans being packed, its presence is everywhere. And of course, there’s the infamous scene from “The Sandlot” where the kids stuff their mouths into Red Man (now known as America’s Best after a belated name change) before throwing up all over the wheel swinging
Chewing tobacco has always been baseball’s worst-kept secret.
A cigarette card (from the Obak Tobacco Company) depicts Henry Jansing of the Tacoma team of the Northwest League in 1910. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
And while the use of the drop among the major leaguers has declined since Tony Gwynn’s untimely death from mouth cancer in 2014 and the collective bargaining agreement’s partial ban on smokeless tobacco in 2016, a significant number of players still participate regularly both off and on. of television cameras.
The practice is perhaps even more common in high school, college, and minor league ball, despite the well-documented and publicized dangers of “chewing.”
But in MLB clubs this spring training, tins of chewing tobacco have been as conspicuous as ever. Fewer players than before have stacks of cans lined up in their lockers. The smell of the long cut doesn’t fill the batting cages and dugouts like it used to.
Because? Because Zyn is there.
Zyn is a brand of smokeless, and more importantly, tobacco-free nicotine pouches that have grown in popularity over the past few years and are now taking over perhaps the most nicotine-addicted place in America: the major league clubs. And while the pouches are just as addictive as traditional tobacco, given the nicotine, the absence of tobacco has many players turning to Zyn for what they believe is a cleaner, healthier and less problematic alternative.
The company sells pouches, available in 10 flavors and two levels of nicotine intensity, that are similar in feel and size to snus (a Swedish tobacco product). Zyns come in an Ice Breakers mint-style plastic container and provide a similar buzz to tobacco pouches without the uncomfortable, repulsive sputum that comes with it. Composed of nicotine salts and various flavorings, the chemicals inside the microfiber bags slowly dissolve over the course of an hour.
“I used Zyns to download [dip]DL Hall told FOX Sports. “They’re still addictive because they have nicotine, but they don’t have the same harmful chemicals that tobacco has.”
Although Hall and several players have used nicotine pouches like Zyn to quit smoking, the FDA does not consider them a legitimate smoking cessation strategy compared to other products such as nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays and inhalers .
In a 2021 article from the University of Nebraska School of Medicine, professional tobacco treatment specialist Jill Selzle said, “If someone is already using nicotine patches and has been able to quit, I would suggest weaning – them with the goal of complete nicotine freedom.”
And while Zyns are free from the list of toxic wetsuit ingredients, there’s still no evidence that tobacco pouches don’t pose any health risks. Because these products are so new to the market, scientists have not been able to study the long-term impacts of such high nicotine intake. And just like the rise of vape culture, Zyn sells a variety of appealing flavors designed to appeal to younger consumers who are more susceptible to any potential negative health effects.
Little of that matters to the players, whose habits reflect a larger trend across the country.
In the first quarter of 2019, Zyn sold 6 million cans, according to company filings. Two years later, the company reported 37 million cans sold, a 516% increase.
And while Zyn is just one of many nicotine pouch options that have hit the scene over the past half-decade, others include On!, Lyft, and Velo, Zyn is by far the most popular. A report by Zyn’s Swedish parent company last October estimated that the brand accounted for nearly two-thirds of American nicotine pouch sales in the previous year.
Their hold on the MLB market is just as strong.
One American League player, who declined to be named because he would not acknowledge his nicotine addiction, estimated that he will pop three six-milligram bags at a time, four or five times over the course of a day. He claimed that his level of nicotine intake (about 90 mg per day) is the norm among big league “Zyners”.
“I usually do two bags at a time.” Pirates pitcher JT Brubaker told FOX Sports. “Zyns are smaller [than what I’m used to]so two simulates the feeling of one big [Copenhagen] pinch.”
Brubaker, who, like Hall, ditched tobacco products for the substitute a few years ago, explained how ubiquitous dipping was while growing up in and around the game. After taking the plunge for the first time during his freshman year of high school baseball, it continued through college, the minors, and the majors. At peak usage, Brubaker claimed he would go through an entire can in a day and a half.
“Especially in the minor leagues, [dip] it was always around,” he said. “It’s its own weird community. Like, if you need one, someone always has one. And then you drop them one later.”
But after a few insecure attempts to “slow down” his tobacco intake, Brubaker discovered Zyns and hasn’t looked back. Since then, the bags have become part of their game day routine; he will throw two at the start of a start for the buzz and throw another couple if he is still throwing when the first batch dries.
“I’ve heard stories about old clubs that had dip cans all over the place,” Brubaker shared. “But it’s different now. The Zyns are taking over, man.”
Another big appeal of Zyns, according to Brubaker and a number of other big leaguers, is that unlike dipping, nicotine pouches don’t have to be consumed secretly. Several state laws banning the use of chewing tobacco in sports facilities make dipping technically illegal at 16 of the league’s 30 ballparks. While these laws and MLB’s download ban motivated some players to quit, others simply hid it better. From hiding cans inside socks or under skimpy shorts to group chat text warnings about surprise visits from MLB’s “dive police,” tobacco-loving ballplayers learned to adopt a more covert approach.
Zyns, on the other hand, don’t require that kind of nonsense.
This is because nicotine pouches, unlike tobacco and nicotine vapor products, have very few legal restrictions associated with them. Also, for many players, they are seen as the lesser of two evils. For example, the aforementioned American League player who consumes about 90 mg of nicotine a day openly acknowledged that it could have unintended health consequences down the road, but he posited that at least his new habit is better than his old one.
The player himself also acknowledged that despite Zyn’s growing popularity in and around the MLB, there are still a number of heavy tobacco users who view Zyn with childish disdain.
“Either way, there’s always going to be players who want their long-cut Copenhagen wintergreen,” he told FOX Sports.
“Zyn? This stuff is for babies,” another major leaguer chided.
Over your left shoulder, piled high in the depths of the top shelf of your closet? Long cut Copenhagen tins.
Jake Mintz, the stronger half @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan who lives in New York City and therefore leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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