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    Experts Warn Against New Fad in Chinese Schools — Nasal Sticks

    The China Consumers Association warned against the surge in students using nasal energy sticks at school, noting they may cause side effects or even spread bacteria.

    “Take one sniff before school and one after class.” That’s one of many slogans driving the growing popularity of “nasal energy sticks” among underage students in China in recent months. 

    Marketed as a tool to help students stay awake and alert during classes, this new trend has raised concerns among experts and authorities about its potential health hazards and negative psychological implications.

    Resembling a lighter, the nasal energy stick comprises two rod-shaped plastic tubes and is mostly available on e-commerce outlets. It is designed to give a jolt of energy when the user inhales a scent primarily composed of mint, borneol, camphor, and plant essential oils. 

    Priced between 10 and 30 yuan ($1.40-$3.20) online and available in multiple flavors, it is marketed to students with slogans such as “a must-have for relieving drowsiness in class.” While the origin of the product is unclear, items with similar functions — designed to clear the nose and refresh the mind — have been available for some time but have only become popular among students recently.

    On Wednesday, the China Consumers Association issued a warning urging parents and underage students to use nasal energy sticks with caution. The notice detailed that inserting these sticks into the nostrils could introduce bacteria and harm the nasal mucosa. It could also lead to mild conditions like rhinitis or, in severe cases, nasal ulcers and bleeding.

    Yin Kai, director of the general medicine department at the Fifth Affiliated Hospital of Southern Medical University in the southern Guangdong province, told domestic media that regular use of the nasal energy stick could lead to side effects.

    “They have a refreshing effect in the short term and can be used to refresh the mind in the event of a stuffy nose or dizziness, and there won’t be any obvious side effects,” said Yin. “However, using them to refresh oneself over a long term may cause many kinds of problems.” 

    Yin explained that the regular use of ingredients like mint, borneol, and camphor in these products could lead to rashes and skin allergies, and could also potentially place a strain on the respiratory and nervous systems. Moreover, there’s a risk these substances could cause addiction, he added, posing a significant hidden threat to children.

    Available in a range of flavors such as watermelon, lemon, and Coca-Cola on e-commerce platforms, the nasal energy stick appeals to young students with its colorful and unique design. The China Consumers Association noted that this aspect makes the product increasingly popular in schools.

    Posing as a potential customer, Sixth Tone found that several online merchants have provided updates to address consumer worries. Some have added warnings to their product descriptions, advising that children should use them only under adult supervision.

    A customer service representative from a vendor on the popular e-commerce platform Taobao who has sold more than 10,000 nasal energy sticks told Sixth Tone that their product is neither harmful nor addictive. The vendor’s product description explicitly states that the sticks should not be inserted into the nose.

    “Put it under your nostrils and smell it,” stated the customer service representative. 

    However, a similar product from a different store advises users to insert it into the nose, with its customer service agent claiming that it was safe for underage students. 

    Beyond potential health risks, the nasal energy sticks have raised significant concerns about their negative psychological impact on children. The act of sniffing resembles the consumption of illegal drugs, prompting various anti-drug authorities to issue warnings. 

    “It’s difficult to imagine the harm of addiction that can be brought about by sniffing. It might make young people less cautious about using drugs and make children more vulnerable,” stated a video on WeChat in response to the trend by the Drug Rehabilitation Center in the northeastern Jilin province. 

    Amid the escalating concern among parents and experts, regional educational and regulatory bodies across China have taken action. In November, the Market Regulation Bureau in Beijing’s Haidian District launched a campaign to identify and inspect businesses near schools, prohibiting the sale of nasal energy sticks to students.

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: From IC and re-edited by Sixth Tone)