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What is Snuff?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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Snuff is finely ground tobacco that, when in dry form, is sniffed up the nose. It is more popular in European countries than in the US. Snuff is also available in wet form. Wet snuff, sometimes called snus, is rubbed inside the mouth instead. This differs from chewing tobacco, which is actually chomped on for a much longer period of time.

Though dry snuff has been shown to possibly reduce allergies, it does still contain carcinogenic agents, and people who use it may be increase their chances of developing oral forms of cancer. Wet snuff has a reduced risk of cancer causing agents as compared to smoking tobacco, yet there are still risks involved.

Wet snuff, called snus by the Swedes, is quite popular and used by about 30% of the male population in that country. Snus is prepared somewhat differently than dry snuff, and other wet snuff variants. It is steam-cured instead of being fire-cured which does reduce some of its carcinogens. Yet it does not reduce all carcinogens, and therefore cannot be considered to be entirely safe. Using snus is safer than smoking or chewing tobacco, and delivers about the same benefits from the drug nicotine.

Whether smoking, using snuff or snus, or chewing tobacco, one is still using nicotine — an addictive and potentially harmful substance. Nicotine has been shown to have dramatic effects on digestion, and may be linked to pancreatic disease. Some people transition from smoking to using snuff or snus to break nicotine addictions. In these instances it can be quite beneficial.

Snuff quickly became a popular form of tobacco in Europe, but has always been less widely used in the US, where chewing tobacco is more popular in terms of the smokeless variety of tobacco. In the early days of tobacco importation in England, people who did not use snuff were surprised by the powdered nose effect of those who sniffed snuff. Americans also were won't to look for spittoons and found them widely unavailable in Europe.

Because of the potentially slightly less harmful effects of snus, several American tobacco manufacturers plan to give it a trial run in the US. Camel® has made snus available to people in Oregon and in Texas since the summer of 2006. It remains to be seen whether snuff or snus might ultimately replace cigarette smoking. It also remains questionable whether substituting one form of nicotine for another is actually of benefit.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon342325 — On Jul 19, 2013

Snuff is way less harmful than any other form of tobacco, and is, in fact, much more enjoyable!

By anon321826 — On Feb 24, 2013

@tdwb7476: There are no scientific studies saying nasal snuff causes cancer. As it is not used orally, I fail to see how it could cause oral cancer, and as I stated above, there are no studies suggesting it can.

All the studies on smokeless tobacco study oral wet snuff, which is completely different from nasal dry snuff.

By anon269473 — On May 18, 2012

How does snuff cause illness? My grandpa used it and died of old age with no cancer. My great uncle is 95 and still using snuff with no health complications and my dad is over 80 and still uses snuff with no complications. Or maybe African (kamba snuff)is different from the others.

By anon55602 — On Dec 08, 2009

There is absolutely no conclusive proof that snuff or snus causes cancer! In fact, according to empirical studies, snus and snuff are not carcinogenic.

The only indications of a potential side effect is one study that found a statistically insignificant increase in pancreatic cancer rates. The study was inconclusive and contradicted by other studies. One thing is for sure. It is 99.9 percent safer than smoking. I used snus to quit smoking over two years ago and I feel a thousand times better.

By tdwb7476 — On Feb 19, 2009

MrSnuff -- I don't think you are completely right. Using snuff does increase one's chances of developing cancer. The National Institutes of Health has a website (cancer.gov) which notes that snuff contains nicotine (which is addictive) and that it has 28 cancer-causing agents. (That meat has cancer-causing agents doesn't discount this fact of snuff.) That site also notes that using smokeless tobacco, including snuff, increases one's chances of developing oral cancers. These health organizations recommend that smokeless tobacco, as well as the smoked kind, not be used. Of course, to each his own, and we all can make our own decisions as to what dangers we want to dance with -- and we all do dance with some.

By MrSnuff — On Feb 17, 2009

Nasal snuff or dry snuff has no known cancers associated with it. It is disingenuous to say that it contains "carcinogenic agents" without any sort of qualifier. Beer and hamburgers contain carcinogenic agents but I can't imagine you would mention that in the same sentence when discussing Burger King versus McDonald's.

Snuff has a 74% success rate in helping people quit smoking and the snuff is at least 1000 times less harmful. It is thus a prime candidate for harm reduction. This has been well documented and you can see some of the articles online.

Tobacco use has to be put into perspective. Smoking tobacco (smoking *anything*) is harmful, not the tobacco itself. Nicotine is not particularly harmful. In fact if it were do you think it would be sold over the counter in the form of patches or gum....which btw have very low success rates in helping people quit.

As far as I can tell, having read as much as I can find on the subject, nasal snuff is an adult pleasure that when done in moderation has about the same negative effects as say coffee. Any negative publications are always pointed at wet snuff and not dry or nasal snuff. The distinction is important.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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