What is Snuff?
Snuff is ground or pulverized tobacco, which is generally inhaled or "snuffed" through the nose. It is a type of smokeless tobacco. There are several types, but traditionally it means Dry/European nasal snuff. In the United States, "snuff" can also refer to dipping tobacco, which is applied to the gums rather than inhaled.
Nasal snuff is basically a finely ground, flavored tobacco, where traditionally the only 3 ingredients have been:
- High Grade Tobacco
- Natural Fragrances
The ingredients of snuff vary from country to country with some countries adding mixtures of paraffin-based oils to their snuffs.
The History of Snuff
Many seem to think that taking snuff tobacco is a fairly new phenomenon that died out over the last century due to the increase in popularity of cigarettes. Snuff tobacco, however, has a rich and varied history since it was first discovered on Columbus' second voyage to the Americas.
Snuff taking has straddled all social classes from the aristocracy to the miner and spread to all corners of the world from Europe to China. Different snuff etiquettes and cultures have developed through the centuries and there have been a number of prominent snuff takers including the likes of Napoleon and King Louis XIII.
Christopher Columbus first noticed American Indians snuffing an unknown powder on his 1494-1496 voyage of discovery. The substance was tobacco, the preparation very close to what we now call snuff. Columbus brought certain quantity of the powder back to Europe, where it quickly became fashionable among the French and Spanish. Later, when Charles II returned to England from exile in France, he took with him his snuff habit, which soon caught on over the Channel as well.
Henceforth, snuff became firmly enrooted as the tobacco product of choice among the aristocracy and followers of fashion. It was seen as a far more refined habit than smoking, and was especially favored in court. Royalty, both Kings and Queens, attended to their snuff habits with a passion, and carried specialized snuff accoutrements and even built dedicated rooms for storing their snuff.
Gradually the common man came to know the pleasures of snuff too, and snuff mills were established across England in cities such as London, Sheffield and Manchester to supply the growing demand. Retailers caught the bug as well, and set up shops solely dealing in snuff and snuff paraphernalia.
Throughout the 18th century snuff production boomed, far outstripping smoking tobacco (or its US sibling, chewing tobacco). It seemed that everyone was taking snuff. And it was even recommended by doctors as a general cure-all, particularly effective in the treatment of coughs, colds and headaches.
During the 19th century snuff was still popular amongst many parts of society in Europe, although Victorian England became less tolerant of the habit that was started to be frowned upon in some quarters. Snuff did, however, remain popular amongst professions where it was not possible to smoke or to be seen to smoke such as Doctors, lawyers, judges, the clergy and of course miners. During the nineteenth century, snuff was used so widely in the Chinese population that literally millions of snuff bottles existed.
During the 20th century snuff declined considerably in popularity, partly on account of the growing tobacco industry's huge marketing machine pushing the "convenience and elegance" of filter cigarettes. After 1949, the communist revolution in China outlawed snuff as a decadent habit of the Qing dynasty.
These days, though, snuff is seeing something of a rebirth amongst connoisseurs and those looking for a nicotine fix where smoking is banned or viewed with contempt. In some circles sharing snuff after dinner is now more acceptable than lighting up.
How to Take Snuff?
There are more than a few widely accepted methods of taking snuff. One of the most common is to simply take a pinch of snuff between your thumb and forefinger and sniff it sharply into one of your nostrils, and then into the other. Some snuff takers like to roll the snuff around for a few seconds pinched between the thumb and forefinger to help warm and release the aromatic oils in the snuff for a more flavorful experience. It is important to remember that the snuff should only be SNIFFED into the nose, not snorted. The snuff needs to remain in the front of your nose, it is not intended to go into your sinuses or throat.
Other methods include tapping some snuff onto the back of your hand, onto the depression formed above the wrist near the base of your thumb when one stretches the thumb, or in the slight depression between your thumb and forefinger.
Some snuff-takers prefer to use a "bullet," a dispenser that can be held directly to the nostrils. This device eliminates the need to carry around a tin and the potential mess of dipping your fingers into it.
- Do not resist the urge to sneeze. It will most likely happen, but resisting it will only decrease the enjoyment you obtain from using snuff. The urge to sneeze when using snuff will pass the more you use it.
- Take care in how you sniff. The effects of accidentally snorting the snuff into your sinuses or throat can be very unsettling, and snuff should never have to be uncomfortable. Do not be discouraged if you don't get it right the first time - with practice, the sharp but shallow sniff needed to get the snuff into the front of your nose but no further becomes second nature.
- Keep in mind that the use of nasal snuff is often accompanied by increased nasal discharge. It is a good idea to have a handkerchief or tissue close to hand to take care of this increased discharge.
Snuff Consumption and Health
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the health effects of using snuff tobacco and using snuff as a nicotine substitute. Because the use of snuff has not been widespread over the recent decades there seems to be no conclusive evidence for or against nasal snuff due to the lack of a detailed study.
However, recently one report has emerged from Smokeless New Zealand, which shows how nasal snuff tobacco can substantially reduce health risks if used as a means to give up smoking.
In the British Medical Journal Volume 283 from 26th September 1981 the following results were reported:
"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."
"The position with coronary heart disease is not clear. 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."
"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, at the cost of a slight increase in the risk of cancer of the nasopharynx (or oral cavity in the case of wet snuff). Another advantage of snuff is that it does not contaminate the atmosphere for non-users."
However, in 1986, a statement from the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that users of smokeless tobacco should know that smokeless tobacco "is not a safe substitute for smoking cigarettes." Smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, which is highly addictive, as well as a number of known cancer-causing chemicals. Any form of tobacco use poses an increased risk of developing cancer, and no level is considered safe.
While the risks of getting cancer from smokeless tobacco are lower than those associated with smoking cigarettes, the health risks of smokeless tobacco are very real and potentially fatal. Smokeless tobacco use also has not been shown to be helpful for smokers who want to quit smoking.
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