It is generally insufflated (inhaled) or "snuffed" through the nose either directly from the fingers or by using specially made "snuffing" devices. There is a general misconception associated with "the snuff sniff". The nicotine in snuff is absorbed through the mucus membrane, so a pinch of snuff only needs to get into the nose. Most snuffers agree that if the snuff gets into the sinuses, one is inhaling too strongly.
Snuff is usually scented or flavoured. Typical flavours are floral, mentholated (also called "medicated"), fruit, and spice, either pure or in blends. Other common flavours include camphor, cinnamon, rose and spearmint. Modern flavours include Bourbon, cherry, Cola and whisky.
Snuff comes in a range of texture and moistness, from very fine to coarse, and from toast (very dry) to very moist. Often drier snuffs are ground finer. There are also a range of tobacco-free snuffs, such as Poschl's Weiss, made from glucose powder or herbs. Whilst strictly speaking these are not snuffs because they contain no tobacco, they are an alternative for those who wish to avoid nicotine, or for "cutting" a strong snuff to an acceptable strength.
In 1561 Jean Nicot, the French ambassador in Lisbon, Portugal, sent snuff to Catherine de' Medici to treat her son's persistent migraines. Her belief in its curative properties helped to popularise snuff among the elite.
By the 17th century some prominent objectors to snuff taking arose. Pope Urban VIII threatened to excommunicate snuff takers. In Russia in 1643, Tsar Michael instituted the punishment of removing of the nose of those who used snuff. Despite this, use persisted elsewhere; King Louis XIII of France was a devout snufftaker, and by 1638, snuff use had been reported to be spreading in China.
By the 18th century, snuff had become the tobacco product of choice among the elite, prominent users including Napoleon, King George III's wife Queen Charlotte, and Pope Benedict XIII. The taking of snuff helped to distinguish the elite members of society from the common populace, which generally smoked its tobacco. It was also during the 18th century that an English doctor, John Hill, warned of the overuse of snuff, causing vulnerability to nasal cancers. The John Hill report is quoted to this day in some medical reports. Snuff's image as an aristocratic luxury attracted the first U.S. federal tax on tobacco, created in 1794.
In 18th-century Britain, the Gentlewoman's Magazine advised readers with ailing sight to use the correct type of Portuguese snuff, "whereby many eminent people had cured themselves so that they could read without spectacles after having used them for many years."
In certain areas of Africa, some claim that snuff reached native Africans before white Europeans did, even though tobacco is not indigenous to Africa. A fictional representation of this is in Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, where the Igbo villagers are regular snuff-takers long before they ever encounter the first British missionaries. In some African countries, such as South Africa and Nigeria, snuff is still popular with the older generation, though its use is slowly declining, with cigarette smoking becoming the dominant form of tobacco use.
In recent years, because of the ban on smoking in pubs in most European Union countries, the practice of snuff taking has increased somewhat.
When snuff taking was fashionable, the manufacture of snuff accessories was a lucrative industry in several cultures. In Europe, snuff boxes ranged from those made in very basic materials, such as horn, to highly ornate designs featuring precious materials made using state of the art techniques. Since prolonged exposure to air causes snuff to dry out and lose its quality, pocket snuff boxes were designed to be airtight containers with strong hinges, generally with enough space for a day's worth of snuff only. Large snuff containers, called mulls (made from a variety of materials, notably including rams horns decorated with silver), were usually kept on the table.
A floral-scented snuff called "English Rose" is provided for members of the British House of Commons at public expense due to smoking in the House being banned since 1693. A famous silver communal snuff box kept at the entrance of the House was destroyed in an air raid during World War II with a replacement being subsequently presented to the House by Winston Churchill. Very few members are said to take snuff nowadays.
In China, snuff bottles were used, usually available in two forms, both made of glass. In one type, glass bottles were decorated on the inside to protect the design. Another type used layered multi-coloured glass; parts of the layers were removed to create a picture.
When sniffed, snuff often causes a sneeze though this is often seen by snufftakers as the sign of a beginner. The tendency to sneeze varies with the person and the particular snuff. Generally, drier snuffs are more likely to do this. For this reason, sellers of snuff often sell handkerchiefs. Slapstick comedy and cartoons have often made use of snuff's sneeze-inducing properties.
Advantages over cigarettes
Users of smokeless tobacco products, including snuff, face no known cancer risk to the lungs, but have a greater cancer risk than people who do not use any tobacco products. As the primary harm from smoking comes from the smoke itself, snuff has been proposed as a way of reducing harm from tobacco.
Unlike tobacco smoke, snuff is free of tar and harmful gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Since it cannot be inhaled into the lungs, there is no risk of lung cancer, bronchitis, and emphysema. It is not known whether nicotine or carbon monoxide is the major culprit responsible for cigarette-induced coronary heart disease. If it is carbon monoxide a switch to snuff would reduce the risk substantially, but even if nicotine plays a part our results show that the intake from snuff is no greater than from smoking.
In conclusion, the rapid absorption of nicotine from snuff confirms its potential as an acceptable substitute for smoking. Switching from cigarettes to snuff would substantially reduce the risk of lung cancer, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly coronary heart disease as well.
Snuff is readily available over the counter in most European tobacco shops. In Britain, tobacco duty is not charged on snuff, although it is subject to the same limitations as other tobacco products for duty free purposes.
In Poland, the production and sale of products intended for nasal-ingestion was illegal from 1996 to 2000.
The are only few snuff companies left:
- Belgium: Sifaco
- Brazil: Fumo Paulistao Ltda., Henriques e Casarin Ltda
- Holland: Molens de Kralingse
- India: Arora Products, Bishamber Das Charan Jeet Lal, Dholakia Tobacco, Jayaram Rathnakumar, Khetu Ram Bishamber Das, Kishore Tobacco Company, Lachhman Dass Amar Nath, M/S. Ranchhoddas Zinabhai Dholakia, Perumal Snuff Company, Pitamberdas Anandji Mehta, Rahmania Snuff Co., Sun Snuffs, UMA Makeshwari Madras Snuff Co., V.V. Vartak Company
- Iceland: ATVR
- Israel: Oneg
- Germany: Gebrüder Bernard (de), Pöschl Tabak (de), J.H. von Eicken, Sternecker
- Poland: Cygara i Tytoń, Paul Gotard, Synchro
- Portugal: Fabrica de Tabaco Estrela
- South Africa: M.L.P., Van Erkoms Tabakke
- Sweden: Atherthons, Swedish Match
- United Kingdom: Wilsons of Sharrow, Samuel Gawith (de), J&H Wilson, Jaxons, McChrystal's, Mullins & Westley, Toque, Gawith & Hoggarth, Abraxas
- United States: American Snuff Company, Swisher, US Smokeless Tobacco
- Anatomical snuff box
- Jack and His Golden Snuff-Box, a fairy tale
- Snuff box
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