Snuff Types and Health Risks

tibetan snuff vials
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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 is made up of 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.

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 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.

Health Risks of Snuff, Chew, and Dip 

All forms of snuff put users at risk for nicotine addiction. Oral snuff can lead to 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; using snuff may increase the risk of head and neck cancer.

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. Snuff tobacco also contains tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), thought to be 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. You won't regret it.

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7 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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