Dipping Tobacco in the United States

Chad Jones

 

A retrospective on dipping tobacco’s history with Chad “Snubie” Jones.

Dipping tobacco in America has a rich, and interesting history.  As a snuser, I always enjoy diving into this subject because dipping tobacco in the US is actually rooted in Swedish Snus.  Today, we’re going to talk about origins, brands, strengths, usage, and more!

 

To fully explain the history of dipping tobacco, we have to begin at the beginning, which actually begins with the origins of Swedish Snus.  Trust me, it will all make sense in the end.  To get to one form of oral tobacco, you really need to examine another to fully understand the roots.  But to get to snus, you really need to start with nasal snuff.  So, we’re going to hop in the wayback machine and take it way, way back.

  

1500s - Nasal Snuff in France

A French ambassador named Jean Nicot came across tobacco plants and Lisbon, and brought them home to Paris.  In the 1560’s, upon discovering Queen Catherine de Medici of France was suffering from migraines, he told her to crush up the dried tobacco leaves and inhale them.  Thus, nasal snuff.  Her headaches seemed to be miraculously cured due to this, and this new form of tobacco consumption began making its rounds through the French nobility circles.

 

1700’s to 1800’s - Snus in Sweden

This form of tobacco consumption would spread to Sweden, and was very popular amongst the upper class and aristocracy of Sweden.  The containers that it was commonly packaged in were beautiful, and often gilded containers.  Towards the end of the 1700s, tobacco was being grown in over 70 towns in Sweden.  Around this time, towards the end of the 1700’s/early 1800’s, a change occurred.  Swedish consumers began placing a pinch of tobacco under the upper lip.  This could be, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of oral tobacco consumption.  However, it is important to note the upper lip placement.  Snus would continue to grow in Sweden, but now we must shift our attention to the United States. 

  

1800’s - Swedish Immigration to the United States

The 1800’s and 1900’s in the US would see a large number of Swedes emigrating to the United States.   There were a lot of factors involved, including religious, agricultural, economic, and social.  Swedes had a high view of the growing rural American landscape, particularly in regards to the agricultural potential.  In this photo, you can see a Swedish Farmer picking grapes in Connecticut.  By 1890, almost 1 million Swedes had crossed the ocean for a new life in America. 

 

1800’s - The Origins of Dipping Tobacco

It goes without saying that the Swedes coming across to America would carry their traditions with them, one of which being snus.  In Swedish and American districts and areas, snus usage was so common that Americans would call these areas “snus boulevards”.  It was a point of pride for early Swedish-Americans, and a part of their identity in this new land. 

 

In the United States, tobacco consumption was a national pastime.  Prior to the Swedish immigration, nasal snuff was also quite popular, as it was in Europe.  The “dipping tobacco” phrase originates from a practice early Americans had.  They would chew the end of a stick until it looks somewhat bristly, and then dip the twig into a container of nasal snuff.  From there, the nasal snuff would be, again, dipped into their mouth and enjoyed until it dissolved.  This was occurring around the 1700’s, so in a sense, the practice of oral tobacco was evolving in different ways in Europe and America.  This practice would continue to evolve. 

 

Back to the Swedish story, as Swedes began to move to the United States, their tobacco consumption methods and recipes began to circulate.  As American tobacco companies became aware of this “snoose tobacco”, as they called it, they began to experiment with it, as well.  Some snus brands began being created, and they would be labeled “snus”, “snoose”, or even “snuff”. 

The first dipping tobacco introduced in the United States was Copenhagen, introduced in 1822.  This is also the same year Sweden’s oldest snus, Ettan, was introduced in Sweden.  Copenhagen was also based off of an old Swedish Snus recipe.  A company in New Jersey was importing Swedish brands into the US, much to the joy of Swedish immigrants, but this would eventually cease as US tobacco companies saw this encroaching on their market share.   These companies would begin creating their own blends, flavors, and brands.  Some originating from Swedish recipes, but evolving more to fit the US consumer.  The US tobacco scene would grow and evolve, with brands originating in the United States and serving as part of the identity of the American moist snuff consumer.

 

Today, dipping tobacco is most popular in the southern United States and in more rural areas.  While a few snus brands are available in the United States, American moist snuff remains the most popular form of smokeless tobacco usage in the United States.

 

Dipping Tobacco Production

The Americans would produce their moist snuff different from the Swedes, however.  While Swedish Snus was pasteurized, American moist snuff, or, dipping tobacco, would be fermented.  Pasteurization is a steam curing process, whereas fermentation is a fire curing process.  This is one of the reasons that American moist snuff has a unique taste that doesn’t exist in Swedish Snus products.  This type of curing is where the tobacco is hung in barns and involves a low burning fire.  The tobaccos produced are lower in sugar and higher in nicotine. 

Dipping Tobacco Brands and Flavors

In the United States, there are a large number of brands available.  Some of the more popular ones include Copenhagen, Grizzly, Kayak, Kodiak, Longhorn, Red Seal, Skoal, Stoker’s, and Timberwolf.  Copenhagen is the oldest brand, going all the back to the 1800’s.  Skoal is another older brand, originating in 1934.  These are two of the more popular brands in the United States, as well.  Dipping tobacco is available in a wide range of flavors, as well.  Some of these flavors include wintergreen, natural, mint, straight, apple, berry, spearmint, citrus, cherry, peach, and more, with various variants of these flavors.

 

Dipping Tobacco Strengths

Dipping tobacco strengths vary based on the brand.  Most are classified as being around the “regular” strength mark, which hovers around 7mg/g to 8mg/g.  In the pouched format, this is a more hard number, as it is locked in based on the pouch.  However, with the fine cut/long cut format, strength can vary based on the user.  If you take a smaller pinch, you won’t get as much nicotine.  If you take a larger pinch and fill out your lip, you’ll get more nicotine.  Ultimately, the strength depends on the user. 

Dipping Tobacco Usage

Dipping tobacco comes in various formats, but it’s basically two master categories - the loose format and the pouched format.  The loose format comes in long cut, fine cut, extra long cut, and a few derivatives.  The pouched format comes, quite simply, in pouches.  The pouch format is more discrete, and easier to use for beginners.  You simply take a pouch, and put it in your lip.  The Swedes traditionally use the upper lip, whereas American moist snuff is traditionally placed under the lower lip.  In this photo, you’ll see a pinch of long cut dipping tobacco.  Unlike chewing tobacco, this pinch is placed, or parked, in the lower lip.  The tobacco will begin to juice up and, due to the fermentation process, requires spitting of the tobacco juice/saliva mixture.  Swallowing your saliva while dipping will most likely result in an upset stomach.

Final Thoughts

Oral tobacco consumption comes in a variety of formats.  In the United States, the moist snuff/dipping tobacco category is the most popular.  While it originated in Sweden and came to the United States thanks to Swedish immigrants, it eventually evolved to it’s own form which is similar, but completely different from the snus commonly enjoyed in Sweden.  It’s popularity is highest in the southern United States, but it is enjoyed nationwide by a variety of consumers.  With a wide variety of brands and flavors, and multiple formats for consumers to enjoy, it has truly evolved into an American tradition, with a deep history, and an open future.