What Is Snuff?


In English the word snuff is commonly used as a collective name for snus, dry snuff and dipping products even though they are processed and used in very different ways. However, as the number of different types of smokeless tobacco has increased, there has been a need to differentiate between the different products. Over the past few years the use of the word snuff has been as a word for the sort of smokeless tobacco which is inhaled, or snuffed, into the nasal cavity.


The history of snuff

Tobacco is an old product which has been around since long before our modern times. The first records of humans smoking tobacco in pipes are from 2000 BC and our records also show that it has been common among native Americans who used pipes as a peace symbol and in various religious ceremonies. However, tobacco has been around for even longer and tobacco fields in Peru and central America are thought to be more than 8,000 years old. It was the indigenous people of Brazil who are considered to be the first people to use ground tobacco as snuff. They would grind their tobacco leaves using a pestle and mortar which was made out of rosewood and this would cause the tobacco to pick up some of the flavor. They would store the snuff in airtight tubes or bottles to preserve the flavor.


The first record of tobacco in Europe is from 1492 when Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Bahamas. He received tobacco leaves as a gift from the indigenous population, but as the Europeans did not know what it was, they simply threw it overboard once they got onto the ship that was taking them back home. It was during Christopher Columbus second voyage to the Americas in 1493 that the first records of Taino and Carib people of the Lesser Antilles using snuff was documented by friar Ramón Pané. The friar later returned to Spain and he brought snuff back with him, signaling its introduction to Europe.


Snuff was not a question of class and was fairly commonly used throughout society, but where the nobility used nasal snuff, the farmers used chewing tobacco and the commoners smoked cigars. One of the first people to start growing tobacco was the French ambassador Jean Nicot. He introduced tobacco to the queen consort of France, Catherine de’ Medici To smell tobacco, which was what Catherine de’ Medici did, spread through the French court to other courts across Europe and eventually it spread to the rest of the population. Nicot was so associated with tobacco the plant was eventually named after him, hence the name nicotiana. Snuff became a fashion among the court and upper-class citizens of France, especially among females, as it was deemed more socially acceptable than other forms of tobacco.


Eventually it was the Dutch who introduced the name snuff for the nasal tobacco which was becoming increasingly more popular. The Dutch first started using it around 1560 and by the 1600s it had become an expensive luxury commodity. It was in 1611 that commercially made snuff was introduced back into North America through John Rolfe, the husband of Pochahontas, as he brought with him a sweeter Spanish type of tobacco. American aristocrats supposedly used snuff, even though most of the colonists in America never fully accepted the English use of snuff.


During the 17th century there were an increase in people who did not approve of snuff, for example Pope Urban VIII banned the use of snuff in churches and he also threatened to expel those who used it. In Russia, the sale of snuff was prohibited by Tsar Michael. However, they did not manage to stamp out the use of snuff completely, and in England the peak was reached during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). During this time, England started to produce its own ready-made snuff blends and home-made blending was common. It is said that Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III) was referred to as “Snuffy Charlotte” and that she had a whole room in Windsor Castle devoted to her snuff stock.


In the United States, the use of snuff fell out of fashion by the last 1700s, most likely because they rejected European practices in general, and especially British practices. Instead the dry snuff users in the US would use a twig as a brush to “dip” the snuff before placing it inside the cheek. Dry snuff is usually not freely available outside the South and Appalachia.  


What is snus?

Simply put one could say that snus is a moist version of the dry tobacco that is referred to as snuff. Instead of inhaling it, it is most commonly placed underneath your upper lip. Whether or not it is loose or portion snuff, it is used by placing it under your upper lip. The nicotine is then absorbed into your bloodstream through the oral mucosa. As nicotine is a stimulant it is transferred to the brain’s reward system and it makes you experience a general feeling of well-being.


Snus comes in two versions; loose snuff and portion snuff. The loose snuff is a moist powder which can be portioned and packed into a cylindrical or spherical shape with the fingertips or a purpose-made device. Portion snuff has become more popular lately, perhaps because it is easier to use. Portion snuff is prepackaged moist powder in small pouches or sachets. The nicotine and tobacco content vary among brands and lately some brands with tobacco free nicotine pouches have appeared on the market.


What is snuff?

Snuff, however, is a dry tobacco which is created by grinding or pulverizing tobacco leaves. It is then inhaled, or snuffed, into the nasal cavity, which gives you a quick nicotine hit. Traditionally a pinch of snuff is placed on onto the back of the hand and then sniffed, or lightly inhaled. In some cases, a specially made tool is used.


Traditional snuff production consists of a very long process with many different steps in specific snuff mills. Snuff is usually flavored or scented and requires months or years of special storage to reach the required maturity. Snuff can be flavored with different spices, piquant, fruit or floral and common flavors include chocolate, bordeaux, vanilla, cherry, cinnamon or orange. Snuff also comes in a variety of different texture and moistness.


Most snuff users have their own preferred techniques but all of them involve inhaling the powdered product into the front of the nose. The powder is supposed to be inhaled or sniffed, never snorted, as this can cause an unpleasant drip in your throat or a burning sensation in the sinuses. The only force required when inhaling the snuff is just enough to lift the powder into the front of the nose. The finest snuff requires almost no force at all but if the powder is coarse it might require a bit more. Most people take a small amount of snuff between their thumb and forefinger, known as a pinch. The amount of snuff should not be more than the size of a pea. Sometimes the inhalation of snuff can cause sneezing, which is not uncommon.


Snuff comes in a wide variety of textures, flavors and strengths. The most common one is plain snuff without artificial scent, flavor or other essence added to it. Another common variation is toasted snuff which is generally lighter in color and is named after the toasting procedure which is used in manufacturing. It usually results in a smokier flavor which some prefer.


Snuff accessories

There are several accessories available to those who use snuff. The most common accessory is the snuff box. In the olden days it was not uncommon to collect snuff boxes, which could come in a variety of different sizes and material. It has previously been made out of porcelain, wood, horn, silver or gold. Since the snuff can lose its quality of dry out if it is subjected to air, snuff boxes were particularly designed to be airtight. In China snuff bottles made out of glass were more common.


Some snuff users feel that their snuff boxes are ornamental and will invest in antique, collectable boxes, whereas others much prefer boxes that simply do the job. The most important thing is to use something that is airtight to prevent the snuff from drying out.


As mentioned before, the snus is usually pinched and placed on the top of the hand before inhaled. It is not something that is done very discreetly, hence the invention of the snuff bullet. The snuff bullet is a small, bullet shaped device that has been designed to make it easier to use snuff in public. First the bullet is filled with snuff and then it is ready for use. Almost all snuff bullets use a rotating dial to capture the snuff and deliver it so that it is ready to be sniffed.    


The effects of snuff

As with all tobacco and/or nicotine products the question of health is one that keep coming up. If you have any queries or questions regarding snuff and health, please consult your doctor as we are not able to give health related advice.


Snuff in different countries

A common tobacco product in the US which is sometimes confused with snuff is “dip” or “dipping tobacco”. However, this is not the same thing as dipping tobacco is a smoke free tobacco product which consists of thinly sliced or ground tobacco which is formed and placed in your mouth. Unlike snuff, dipping tobacco is usually placed underneath the lower lip and extra saliva is produced when using the product which leads to the need to spit a lot.


Snuff is readily available over the counter in most European tobacco shops, but it is usually subjected to the same rules and regulation such as age restrictions as other tobacco products.


Non-smoking tobacco is available in many different countries around the world, but it comes in a number of versions. Aside from the nasal tobacco known as snuff, one of the more popular sorts is the “Swedish snus”. Swedish snus is popular in the other Nordic countries as well as in America, but Sweden is the only country within the EU where selling snus is allowed.


Mouth tobacco is common in countries such as Yemen, Sudan and India. On Madagascar 25% of the adult population is supposedly using some kind of tobacco that is not classical cigarettes.


Snuff tax

The most common tobacco tax in the US is tax on cigarettes. Every state decides over their own tax levels but on average, federal and state excise tax on cigarettes contributed to 44.3% of the retail price in 2016. Connecticut and New York had the highest tax rate, whereas Missouri had the lowest. The wide disparity in rates between cities and states unfortunately plays a part in the increased cigarette smuggling across the country. It has led to black markets appearing in certain areas, especially in high-tax states that have their borders toward low-tax states.


According to the non-profit organization The Tax Foundation (America’s leading independent tax policy 501©(3) nonprofit) the market in the US has changed with the introduction of a wider variety of non-smoking tobacco or tobacco free nicotine products. Currently there are 21 states that tax nicotine products, but they do it in different ways, based on price, volume or with a bifurcated design at different rates for open or closed tank systems. It is expected that more states will introduce taxes on vapor products during 2020.


The tax on snuff varies between different states and will also depend on how and where you buy your products. Many people choose to buy their snuff online with shipping from Europe, which might affect the taxes when it comes through customs. It is always the customer who is responsible for assuring that the product they buy can be lawfully imported into the country. The recipient is the importer of record which means they are expected to comply with the laws and regulations that apply in the destination country. If you order from a country outside of the United States, international shipping may be subjected to excise taxes, fees and customs duties which are levied by the destination country. Some companies will offer DDP shipping (Delivery and Duty Paid) where the shipping costs include duties and government excise taxes. Customs policies can vary massively between countries, so we strongly recommend that you contact your local customs office for any additional information to be absolutely sure that rules apply in your specific case.