News; Jun 25, 2003 CET

It started with royal noses

Snuff has its origins in North America and spread to Europe via Columbus. The use of nasal snuff flourished at the influential French court and was quickly copied by the upper classes at many Central European courts. In Sweden, snus habits changed at the beginning of the 19th century, when placing moist snus under the upper lip became a widespread practice.

When Columbus and other European discoverers came
to America, the Indians were using tobacco. They inhaled nasally a powder that consisted of tobacco and other ingredients. The practice was associated with magic, rituals and religious ceremonies.

Spanish and Portuguese sailors brought back the tobacco plant to Europe to begin cultivating it in their gardens. By the middle of the 16th century,doctors in Lisbon were using the tobacco herb as a medicine. They thought it was a kind of universal remedy that could cure all illnesses, even including cancer.

Jean Nicot, French ambassador to Lisbon, heard that the French queen Catherine de Medici suffered from migraines. He advised her to crush a tobacco leaf and inhale the tobacco powder nasally. The queen followed this advice and got rid of her headaches. From that day forward she was a devoted snuff user and snuff quickly became popular at the French court, which was influential throughout Europe.

Itdid not take long before men and women at the courts of other European nations started using nasal snuff. How one snuffed was important. It was a status symbol to own a special snuff can for each outfit. The cans were often made of gold or silver and covered with precious stones. There were 14 rules for how to handle a snuff can - how to take it out, open it, offer from it and so forth, so that one would be considered polite.

Nasal snuff became a must for the Swedish aristocracy during the 18th century. Ordinary people smoked pipes or chewed tobacco. Tobacco was starting to be grown domestically in order to improve the economy and reduce imports. By the middle of the 18th century, tobacco was being cultivated in some 70 different Swedish cities.

The French upper class was overthrown during the French Revolution. After that it became outmoded and “politically incorrect” to use nasal snuff. The burgher class that came to power went over to smoking cigars instead.

At about the same time, Swedes began putting moist snus under their lips instead of inhaling it nasally. We are not quite sure of the reasons behind this change.

Snus was called a poor man’s luxury. Initially, farmers probably made their own snus, but during the 19th century, factories started manufacturing moist snus with various aromas, using local brand names. The biggest bestselling brand, popularly known as Ettan, was Ljunglöf Snus No 1. Virtually all of the Swedish snus manufacturers during the 19th century had local brand names with various degrees of quality - 1, 2, 3 - in their product lineups. Ljunglöf successfully marketed Ettan as a quality product throughout the country. Ettan remains one of Sweden’s largest snus brands and one of the country’s oldest, still active brand names. Today, Ettan accounts for approximately one-fifth of all snus consumption in Sweden.

Consumption of oral snus increased throughout the 19th century, reaching a peak of 7,000 tons in 1919. At that time, Sweden had a population of approximately 6 million, which corresponds to an average consumption of 1.2 kilograms per person. After that, consumption started to decline. There are several likely reasons - cigarettes became the modern choice of city dwellers, while snus became associated with poverty and went out of style.

It was only at the end of the 1960s that the trend reversed itself. More and more reports were published during the mid-1960s warning of the health risks associated with smoking. Snus became an alternative, especially once the debate surrounding passive smoking gained momentum. That trend has continued and never before have so many cans of snus been sold as now. Snus has once again become accepted - at all levels of society.