What Is Snuff?

tibetan snuff vials
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What Is Snuff?

Snuff is a form of smokeless tobacco meant to be inhaled through the nose or chewed, or placed in the mouth to produce saliva.

Snuff comes in a "dry" form (for snorting) and in a "wet" or "moist" form (chewing or dipping tobacco). Additionally, there is a creamy snuff, which is less popular than the other forms. All deliver nicotine and other hazardous chemicals, so all are dangerous to use.

Types of Snuff

"Snuff" often refers specially to dry snuff, but it also comes in 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" 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 whiskey, bourbon, and cola can be found. Most snuff is aged 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, especially in people who are new to the practice.

Wet Snuff

There are a few different kinds of wet snuff, which is placed in the mouth to produce nicotine-laden saliva.

  • 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% tobacco and 70% water and flavorings.
  • Dipping tobacco (dip): This American snuff product 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 are chewed to release tobacco juices. Both dip and chew 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 spitting out the tobacco-laden saliva it produces.

Creamy snuff comprises tobacco paste, clove oil, glycerin, and mint flavorings. It's used mainly in India to clean the teeth. Creamy snuff is addictive, just like any other snuff product.

Health Risks of Snuff, Chew, and Dip

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smokeless tobacco products such as snuff pose several significant health risks:

  • Addiction: All forms of snuff put users at risk for nicotine addiction.
  • Cancer: Snuff is associated with cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas.
  • Dental and oral health problems: Snuff and other types of smokeless tobacco increase the risk of various dental problems, including receding gums, swollen gums, gum disease, tooth staining, bad breath, and tooth decay. It also increases the risk of other mouth problems.
  • Heart disease: Snuff is linked to increased blood pressure and heart rate and an elevated risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Poisoning: Snuff can lead to accidental nicotine poisoning in children, which can cause problems breathing, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, loss of consciousness, and death.
  • Pregnancy complications: The use of snuff during pregnancy is associated with an elevated risk of early delivery and stillbirth.

Chronic abuse of dry snuff leads to morphological and functional changes in the nasal mucosa. Users are also exposed to carcinogens in tobacco; snuff may increase the risk of head and neck cancer.

Is Snuff Safer Than Smoking?

While snuff doesn't contain tar or any toxic gases produced by burning cigarettes, all forms have nicotine. Snuff tobacco also contains tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), considered some of the most potent carcinogens in tobacco.

The best choice is to avoid all tobacco products completely. If you're addicted to nicotine (whether it's delivered by traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or smokeless tobacco products), 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.

History of Snuff Use

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 introduced commercially manufactured 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. 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% of the cost of a container of it. Smoking and chewing tobacco were not included in this tax.

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

How to Stop Using Snuff

If you want to quit using snuff, some different strategies and resources can help. Options that you can try include:

  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): This involves the use of patches, gums, lozenges, and other products that deliver a controlled, low dose of nicotine. These products can be used to gradually taper your nicotine intake until you can quit with fewer cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Prescription medications: Medications such as Chantix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion) can help reduce symptoms of nicotine craving and withdrawal.
  • Counseling: Therapy can also help quit snuff and help you develop coping strategies that will support long-term success.
9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.