snuff, preparation of pulverized tobacco used by sniffing it into the nostrils, chewing it, or placing it between the gums and the cheek. The blended tobacco from which it is made is often aged for two or three years, fermented at least twice, ground, and usually flavored and scented. In pre-Columbian times, snuff was used in the West Indies, in Mexico, and in parts of South America. Adoption of the practice in Europe was encouraged by belief in its medicinal virtue. From Europe the custom was carried to the Middle East and Asia. The highest status of snuff taking was attained in the 18th cent., when it was practiced by both men and women. The richly ornamented snuffboxes of the time are now esteemed by collectors. A ritual of taking snuff developed, with prescribed ways of tapping and opening the box and offering it to others. Later the practice of dipping snuff into the mouth with a stick or brush, or of inserting it between the cheek and gums, largely replaced sniffing it into the nostrils.

Snuff is a type of smokeless tobacco. There are several types, used in different ways, but traditionally it means Dry/European nasal snuff, which is inhaled or "snuffed" through the nose.



Dry snuff or European snuff is usually (but not always) scented or flavoured and is intended to be sniffed through the nose. Typical flavors are floral, mentholated (also called 'medicated'), fruit, and spice, either pure or in blends. Other common flavours include:

Modern Flavors

Apart from flavours, dry snuff also comes in a range of texture and moistness, from very fine to coarse, and from toast (very dry) to very moist. Often dryer snuffs are cut finer.

Brands of dry snuff


United Kingdom


South Africa






Moist snuff is called American Snuff in the U.S. and Canada, in contrast to the aforementioned Dry Snuff, which was perceived to be a European, particularly British and French, habit. In truth, it originates, and is still produced and used, in Europe. It tends to be applied to the gums, rather than sniffed. Called dipping tobacco, it is similar to Snus, a Swedish tobacco product, and it is possible that this type of snuff originated in Sweden or Scandinavia. American snuff comes in two varieties, 'sweet' and 'salty', but also has flavours including peach, mint, and licorice. Dipping tobacco is distinct from chewing tobacco.

In India, Creamy snuff is a paste consisting of tobacco, clove oil, glycerin, spearmint, menthol, and camphor sold in a toothpaste tube. It is marketed mainly to women in India and is known by the brand names Ipco (made by Asha Industries), Denobac, Tona, Ganesh.

Snuff accessories

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. Large snuff containers, called mulls, were usually kept on the table. A famous silver communal snuff box at the British House of Commons was destroyed in World War II.

In China, snuff bottles were used, usually available in two forms. Glass bottles are 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.


Snufftaking by the Native Americans was first described by a monk named Ramon Pane in 1493, during Columbus' second journey to the Americas.

In 1561 Jean Nicot, the French ambassador in Lisbon, Portugal, sent snuff to Catherine de' Medici to treat her son's persistent migraines, after which she became a fan of snuff.

By the 1600s some started to object to snuff being taken. Pope Urban VIII threatened to excommunicate snufftakers, and in Russia in 1643, Tsar Michael set the punishment of removal of the nose for snuff use. However, there were still some fans; King Louis XIII of France was a devout snufftaker, and by 1638, snuff use had been reported to be spreading in China.

By the 1700s, Snuff had become the tobacco product of choice, with fans including Napoleon, King George III's wife Queen Charlotte, and a new Pope, Benedict XIII. It is also during the 1700s that the first tobacco warnings were published, among these, John Hill, an English doctor warned of the overuse of snuff, causing vulnerability to nasal cancers. Snuff's image as an aristocratic luxury attracted the first U.S. federal tax on tobacco, created in 1794.

In Eighteenth-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."

Health Risks

Dry snuff is usually insuffulated, where nicotine is absorbed through the mucus membranes. It does not present the same health risk to the nose as burning tobacco does to the lungs. Dry snuff is generally healthier than most other tobacco products, although all tobacco products are addictive.

Legal Issues

Oral snuff, in the form of dipping tobacco and snus is banned from all countries of the European Union, except Sweden, where the sale of snuff is legal. .

In spite of legal issues, snuff is readily available over the counter in most European tobacco shops. In Britain, snuff is much cheaper than cigarettes and other tobacco products as it is tax exempt, however for duty free reasons snuff still carries the same limitations as tobacco products.

See also

Further reading

  • Ursula Bourne, Snuff. Shire Publications, 1990.
  • John D. Hinds, "The Use of Tobacco." 1882.


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