Everything You Should Know About Snuff

tibetan snuff vials
Tibetan Snuff Vials. Bill Hinton Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

What is Snuff?

Dry snuff is a powdered tobacco product that involves curing or fermenting selected tobacco leaves which are then ground down into a fine powder.  

Traditional  "fine snuff" was a product that highlighted the taste of different tobacco blends only, but most of what is sold today has a scent or flavor added as well.  

Common flavors include coffee, chocolate, plum, camphor, cinnamon, rose, mint, honey, vanilla, cherry, orange, apricot.

Even flavors like whisky, bourbon and cola have been created. Most snuff is then tucked away for a period of time to allow the flavors to settle and develop before it's sold.

How is Snuff Used?

Dry snuff is snorted or sniffed into the nasal cavity, where it sends a hit of nicotine into the bloodstream quickly. This action often produces a sneeze, but those experienced in the practice would tell you that is the sign of a beginner.

Who Uses Snuff?

Snuff has a long history of use. Mayan snuff containers dating to AD 300-900 have been found. Snuff has turned up in numerous cultures and time periods elsewhere in the world, from South America to Spain and other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. John Rolfe, husband to Pocahontas introduced snuff to North America in the early 1600s.

Following a period of time where snuff was frowned upon and banned by the Pope and a couple of French Kings, it regained popularity with French, English, and even American aristocrats.

Interestingly, the U.S Congress passed the first federal excise tax on tobacco products in 1794. A tax of 8 cents was applied to snuff and represented 60 percent of the cost of a container of it. Smoking and chewing tobacco were not included in this tax. James Madison opposed it, saying it deprived poorer people of innocent gratification.

Today, snuff is still available in smoke shops throughout Europe. It is regulated in the same way as other tobacco products, including age restrictions.

In the United States, snuff is not popular, so is not as easily obtained. It can be found in specialty smoke shops and online.

What is the Difference Between Snuff, Snus, Dipping and Chewing Tobacco?


As described above, snuff is a fine, dry pulverized powder that is inhaled through the nose. It's also known as dry snuff, while snus, dip and chew tobacco are referred to as wet or moist snuff.


This is a Swedish moist snuff product that is sold in little packets.  The snuff is slipped between the upper lip and gums where it sits, mixing with saliva and leaching nicotine-containing tobacco juice into the mouth.  Most snus packets contain about 30 percent tobacco and 70 percent water and flavorings.

Dipping Tobacco (Dip)

This is an American snuff product that is also moist.  It is comprised of ground up or loose bits of shredded tobacco that users take a pinch of to place between cheek and gum.

As the juice builds up, it's either spit out or swallowed.

Chewing Tobacco (Chew)

Chewing tobacco comes in a few different forms:  loose, leaf, pellets and plugs.  Some are flavored and/or sweetened, and all forms of it are chewed to release tobacco juices.  

Both dip and chew tobacco are discarded, not swallowed when finished.

More reading: 5 Important Facts about Smokeless Tobacco

Health Risks Associated with Snuff

All forms of snuff put users at risk for nicotine addiction.

Oral snuff can attract a multitude of oral problems, including leukoplakia, receding gums, tooth loss and oral cancer.  

Chronic abuse of dry snuff leads to morphological and functional changes in the nasal mucosa. Users are also exposed to carcinogens in the tobacco, but as of yet, proof of a direct link between snuff use and head, neck or other cancers doesn't exist.

Is Snuff a Good Alternative to Smoking?

While snuff doesn't contain tar or any of the toxic gases produced by burning cigarettes, they do have nicotine and users will become addicted because of that.  

Snuff tobacco also contains tobacco-specific nitrosamines, thought to be some of the most potent carcinogens in tobacco.

The best possible choice is to avoid all tobacco products completely.  If you're addicted to nicotine, use the resources here to help you quit now.  Addiction never just fades away on its own, so be proactive and kick it out of your life.  You won't regret it.


American Association for Cancer Research. Carcinogenic Tobacco-specific M-Nitrosamines in Snuff and in the Saliva of Snuff Dippers. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/41/11_Part_1/4305.full.pdf. Accessed February 2016.

ResearchGate.net. Nasal Snuff: Historical Review and Health-Related Aspects. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/9049763_Nasal_snuff_Historical_review_and_health_related_aspects. Accessed February 2016.

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