1. Smokeless Tobaccos

This broad category of tobacco product includes any oral or nasal tobacco preparation that is used without burning it. The names for them are confusing. Below is a delightful, historical perspective on snuff, snus, and dip, provided by squeezyjohn, a member of the Fair Trade Tobacco Forum from Great Britain

The confusion is a historical one connected with the spread around the globe of different tobacco types, which took them through several languages as well!


Snuff is an old English term for anything powdered you took medicinally through the nostrils, related to the word sniff. It was one of the many techniques used to get old herbal remedies into the body, and we still use related words like snuffling or snuffly to describe the sound of a person with a cold (or an animal that sounds similar).

Around the year 1500, the first travelers to the new world of the Americas discovered tobacco being used by the native elders in a snuff format, via types of tubes, and brought the plant back with them to Spain and Portugal, where it was touted as a new medicine to be used as a powdered form taken into the nostrils.

In the 1560s a Frenchman called Jean Nicot was ambassador in Lisbon. He sent some tobacco back to Paris, where Queen Catherine had been suffering from chronic headaches, and advised her to use it to relieve the pain. It worked very well and became fashionable amongst the upper class and courtly circles throughout France and wider Europe. Jean Nicot’s name lives in history as the Latin name of the plant family Nicotiana…and by association, the chemical nicotine is also named after him.

Snuff gained its English name when it arrived in the English courts of the early 1600s, as this was already the name for a medicine taken nasally. Over time, the word snuff became almost exclusively associated with this form of tobacco. Meanwhile, this nasal tobacco spread to Sweden via the courts as well. The word Snus is of a similar Germanic origin to the English word snuff and is first documented in Swedish in 1637. At that time it was still referred to as nasal snuff. By the 1700s, nasal “snus” was very popular in Sweden, and tobacco farming had become a common thing throughout the country (unlike in England, which relied on its American colonies to provide tobacco).

By the early 1800s, tobacco use had filtered down to all levels of Swedish Society, however, the farmers and workers had taken to using their ground-up tobacco by wetting it a little, and placing it in their upper lips, instead of using their noses. Presumably, this was an easier way to use the product while actively working. This method became the default way of using snus, while nasal snuff was rapidly going out of fashion amongst the upper classes. Certain brands and recipes were set up in this period, including Ljunglof’s Ettan (Ettan means number one in Swedish) which is still available today, made by Swedish Match. Many other brands followed including Generalsnus (regular snus) and RÖda Jacket (Red Seal).

In the late 1800s, more than a million Swedes crossed the Atlantic to set up new lives in the USA and brought their snus habit with them. Brands were set up to serve the demand, and some used old Swedish names like Copenhagen and Red Seal. Throughout the 1900s the styles of the recipe used in this oral tobacco diverged in its Swedish homeland and in the USA, so the products now are very distinct from each other. The word snus was still in common use as an alternative to dipping as late as the 1950s in some parts of the USA. Nowadays, “dip” or “snuff” is the normal word used in the states to describe American moist oral tobacco [even though dry, nasal snuff is still its own distinct product in the US]. But the term dip has yet another nasal-snuff-related origin from much earlier in history. During the British colonial period, the French-inspired upper-class snuff habit had also made the journey across the Atlantic. Whereas cigars became the favorite form of tobacco use amongst gentlemen, ladies took to dipping a moistened stick in nasal snuff and rubbing it into their gums, which was considered more discrete and ladylike than either snorting it or smoking cigars! Dipping became the term for this, and at some point in the 1900s, the term became confused with the recently imported Swedish form of using snus in the upper lip. The American preference for dipping in the lower lip also happened at some point in time near this.

So there you have it. Snuff, snus, dip. It’s all really the same thing, separated by cultural evolution over time, and several languages changes.