The Interesting History of Snuff

What is Snuff?

Finely ground tobacco leaves inhaled or "snuffed" into the nasal cavity, to deliver a quick hit of Nicotine into the bloodstream. Traditionally, a pinch of Snuff is either placed on the back of one’s hand or pinched between thumb and index finger.

Origin of Snuff and Usage Across the World

Snuff originated from the Americas' indigenous tribes, specifically Brazil's natives, more than 500 years ago. They made it by grinding dried tobacco leaves. It then found its way to Spain following Columbus's second voyage to the New World in the 1490s.

The use of Snuff soon spread across Europe due to its perceived medicinal value. Its popularity only grew even more when it got an endorsement from the French Queen Catherine de' Medici, who declared it a wonder for headaches. This was following a recommendation by Jean Nicot, a French scholar and diplomat.

As a result, Jean Nicot became famous for bringing tobacco to France, including snuff tobacco. As you might have guessed, Nicotine is named after him.

Jean Nicot presents the tobacco plant to Queen Catherine de Medicis and the Grand Prior of the House of Lorraine, 1655

In the 1500s, snuff production began in earnest in Spain's city, Seville. By the 1600s, Snuff was considered a luxury product and mark of refinement across Europe. Over the years taking Snuff was a very popular activity among women. So much so Queen Charlotte, wife to King George III, earned the nickname 'Snuffy Charlotte' due to her love for Snuff.

Snuff found its way to North America through John Rolfe, an early English Settler who's credited with the first successful tobacco cultivation as an export crop in England's Colony of Virginia during the 17th Century.

The Decline in Popularity of Snuff

Not everyone was in favor of the taking of Snuff and its popularity across Europe. Several popes and kings banned the use of Snuff during their reign. For example, Pope Urban VIII banned the use of Snuff in churches and threatened to excommunicate snuff-takers.

Tsar Michael took it to the next level by not only prohibiting the sale of tobacco but also instituting a punishment of cutting off the noses of anyone found using Snuff.

 Up until the late 1700s, Snuff was taken through the nose. But Americans moved away from this method of taking snuff. Instead, most preferred taking Snuff orally. They did this by chewing the end of a twig until it resembled a brush, and then "dipping" the twig in the snuff and placing it in their mouths until the Snuff dissolved. This gave rise to moist snuff, also known as dipping tobacco.

Use of Snuff in the 21st Century

Originally Snuff was made from only a ground blend of different tobacco. But today, scents and flavors are added as well. Common flavors include coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, rose, mint, honey, vanilla, orange, and apricot. 

Dipping tobacco is more easily accessible in the United States than the original dry Snuff. Dry Snuff is now mainly found in specialty tobacco shops or online stores, unlike in Europe, where many tobacco shops still sell dry Snuff.

There is no evidence to suggest that nasal Snuff causes lung cancer when used, as intended. As a result, most snuff manufacturers have faced very minimal lawsuits in comparison to their cigarette counterparts.

Creamy snuff is common in India. It consists of a paste made of tobacco, clove oil, glycerin, spearmint, menthol, and camphor, sold in a toothpaste tube. Creamy Snuff is commonly used as a form of toothpaste.


When snuff-taking was popular and still considered a luxury activity, snuff accessories' production was a lucrative business. Snuff boxes ranged from those made with basic materials, such as horn, to sophisticated designs featuring precious materials.

Most snuff boxes are designed to be pocket-sized, and most only carry a day's worth of Snuff. They also have airtight lids. This is because prolonged exposure to air causes snuff to dry out and lose its quality.

The Snuff Sneeze

It's a common sight to see someone sneeze after taking Snuff. When Snuff is snorted or sniffed into the nasal cavity, it sends a quick hit of Nicotine into the bloodstream—this is what produces the sneeze, especially among beginners.

Fun fact: Did you know that sneezing was believed to cure diseases during the 17th and 18th centuries? To rid themselves of ailments, men and women inhaled, snorted, and sneezed out different medicines.


  • Clare Martin

    It was a helpful explanation when you informed us that snuff refers to finely ground tobacco leaves that are inhaled into the nasal cavity to give us a quick hit of nicotine into our bloodstream. My cousin likes to smoke a lot, and it seems like he has taken an interest in snuff recently as well. I wonder if he was able to find a smoke shop here in Menomonie where he could purchase snuff as well.

  • ButtFuker

    I just watched Butte Fockers II staring Ben Stiller and DeNiro – i give the film a 10/10

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