Everything You Should Know About Snuff

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

What is Snuff?

Snuff comes in a "dry" form and in a "wet" or "moist" form.  Additionally, there is a creamy snuff,  which is less popular than the other forms.

Dry 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 can be found. Most snuff is then tucked away for a period of time to allow the flavors to settle and develop before being sold.

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 sneezing is the sign of a beginner.

Wet Snuff

Snus

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.

Creamy Snuff

Sold in toothpaste tubes, creamy snuff is meant to be applied to the gums by rubbing it on with the finger or toothbrush. It is then left in place for a few minutes before the spitting out the tobacco-laden saliva it produces. 

Creamy snuff is made up of tobacco paste, clove oil, glycerin and mint flavorings. It's used mainly in India by women as a toothpaste to clean the teeth.

Creamy snuff is addictive, just like any other snuff product.

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.

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.

More reading: 5 Important Facts about Smokeless Tobacco

Is Snuff a Good Alternative to Smoking?

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

Snuff tobacco also contains tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), 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.

Source:

American Cancer Society. Health Risks of Smokeless Tobacco. Updated November 13, 2015.

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