Generally speaking, toothpicks are one of those classic utility items that people don’t expect will ever change. But there have been changes.
Introduced to the U.S. market around 2013, nicotine toothpicks serve a different function than simply dislodging food bits stuck between teeth. Oftentimes touted as a smoking cessation option, “nic picks” certainly can substitute for an oral fixation or habit instead of cigarettes or chewing tobacco. For convenience store businesses, though, nicotine toothpicks — which fall within the modern oral nicotine category — offer a chance to extend tobacco product sales.
Nicotine toothpicks are pretty self-explanatory: traditional toothpicks infused or coated with tobacco-free nicotine and food-grade flavorings. Users suck on the stick to release the nicotine within a few minutes. For a more intense experience, users can chew or nibble on it. Most brands sell toothpicks with three milligrams of nicotine as well as in a variety of flavors, including wintergreen, peppermint and cinnamon.
Although in the market for several years, nic picks often have been overlooked as the popularity of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) grew at highly profitable rates. In recent years, though, cities and states placed more restrictions on where traditional tobacco products and ENDS can be used in public. Those limitations vicariously create new appeal for tobacco-free products that escaped most use-related regulations. Nicotine toothpicks empower users to imbibe without the telltale signs of odor, smoke or spit, so they can be used discreetly in settings that prohibit tobacco products.
That said, because nicotine is a tobacco compound, these items are still regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in addition to local and state laws.
Manufacturers must secure FDA approval to sell the products, and c-stores and other retailers must abide by guidelines and laws, including age verification. In fact, some public health advocates have expressed concerns about the product being accessed by underage youth.
The key to making such a niche item pay off for convenience stores often falls to consumer awareness. With every sale of an oral nicotine item, employees can ask if customers would like to add in a pack of nic picks. With every ring up of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, inquire if customers would like to try nicotine toothpicks. Not only is this practice an opportunity to expand total basket sales, but it’s a chance to showcase customer service by acknowledging and highlighting customers’ preferences.