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Author: Gustaf Bonde

Published: 2023-10-9

The Deep-Rooted Tradition: A Dive into the History of Snus

Tobacco leaves drying Snus, the quintessentially Swedish moist tobacco product, has a rich and colorful history that stretches back over five centuries. Its tale begins with the first encounter between Europeans and the tobacco leaf in the Caribbean, meanders through the royal courts of France and Sweden, before evolving into a symbol of Swedish heritage both at home and in the diaspora. As you delve into the snus narrative, you’ll discover a story interwoven with explorers, monarchs, revolutions, and a continuous quest for quality and innovation.

This article is part of our series on Snus and in this text we take a detailed look at the rich history of snus. For a broader overview of Snus read more in Snus: The Traditional Swedish Tobacco Pouch – History, Benefits, and Comparison.

Early Beginnings: 1400-1500

The saga of snus unfolds on the island of Hispaniola (present-day Haiti) in the West Indies, where Europeans, led by Christopher Columbus, first came into contact with tobacco in October 1492. The indigenous people, recognizing the value of tobacco leaves, offered them as gifts to Columbus and his crew.

By 1497, during Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas, monk Ramon Pane encountered what could be termed as a precursor to snus. He observed indigenous priests inhaling a powdered substance through a fork-shaped tube. Although the powder wasn’t solely tobacco, this act bore a resemblance to what would later evolve into snus consumption back in Europe.

Tobacco Meets Europe: 1500-1600

The journey of tobacco from the New World to Europe was facilitated by Spanish and Portuguese sailors who brought the tobacco plant to the continent. In Lisbon, by the mid-16th century, physicians started recognizing the medicinal potential of tobacco. They believed it could cure ailments like syphilis and cancer, and began cultivating tobacco in their gardens.

One notable figure who played a pivotal role in the evolution of snus was Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Lisbon. The botanical name of the tobacco plant, Nicotiana tabacum, commemorates his contributions. Enthralled by the tobacco plant, Nicot transported some back to Paris in the 1560s. Upon discovering that Queen Catherine de Medici suffered from chronic headaches, Nicot advised her to pulverize tobacco leaves and inhale the powder. The Queen heeded the advice, and voila, her headaches vanished! This miracle cure quickly vaulted snus into popularity within the French court circles.

Snus Arrives in Sweden: 1600-1700

With Paris being the trendsetter for all European courts, it wasn’t long before snus made its way to Sweden. The first mention of snus in Sweden was in 1637, documented in a customs record that highlighted snus being imported from Borgå in Finland. The 18th century saw snus becoming a quintessential accessory among the aristocracy. It was considered a must-have, especially among the gentlemen and ladies of the time. An exquisite snus can was part of a fine gentleman’s accoutrements, symbolizing elegance and a sense of nobility.

The snus cans of the 18th century were nothing short of artwork – crafted meticulously from gold, silver, or other precious materials. They quickly became one of the most sought-after gifts, embodying a blend of functionality and sophistication. The intricacies in the designs of these snus cans reflected the social status and wealth of the owner, making them prized possessions.

The Swedish Tobacco Industry: 1700s

The 18th century also marked the dawn of the Swedish tobacco industry. Tobacco cultivation started sprouting in regions like Skåne, Gränna, and Alingsås. Jonas Alströmer, known as the father of the potato in Sweden, spearheaded large-scale tobacco farming in Alingsås. By the end of the 18th century, tobacco was being cultivated in over 70 Swedish towns.

It was during this period that snus transitioned from being a luxury item to a more accessible commodity for the masses. The widespread cultivation of tobacco played a pivotal role in democratizing snus, bringing it closer to the common folk.

The Fall and Rise of Snus: Late 1700s - 1800s

The French Revolution ushered in a decline of the traditional snuff, especially among the upper class who were its primary consumers. Although Napoleon, a known snus enthusiast, gave snus a brief resurgence, post his era, it fell out of favor. The emerging bourgeoisie, now in power, shifted their tobacco preferences to cigars.

In Sweden, however, the political shifts coincided with a change in snus habits. In the early 19th century, or perhaps even earlier, Swedish consumers transitioned from inhaling snus to placing a pinch under the lip. Many farmers, with their own tobacco cultivation, started producing their own snus, grounding the tobacco in coffee grinders or hand-carved snus mills.

Industrial Boom: 1800-1900

The 19th century saw the emergence of snus manufacturers who started producing local variants of moist snus. Notable suppliers like Petter Swartz with Röda Lacket, and J.A. Boman with Generalsnus began making a mark. However, the crown jewel was Ettan, Ljunglöf’s Ettan, founded by Jacob Fredrik Ljunglöf. His factory at Badstugatan, today’s Sveavägen in Stockholm, traced its roots to a tobacco company established around 1695. Ljunglöf took over in 1822, transforming it into Europe’s and the world’s leading snus factory.

Almost every Swedish snus manufacturer during the 1800s offered a range of snus labeled No: 1, No: 2, and No: 3, indicating different quality levels. However, Ljunglöf marketed his No: 1 as a nationwide quality product and succeeded grandly. Ljunglöf’s Ettan became a household name, and today, it remains one of Sweden’s largest brands, accounting for about a fifth of all snus sales in Sweden.

Snus Across The Atlantic

The emigration of over a million Swedes to America from 1846 to 1930 carried the tradition of snus with it across the Atlantic. Snus became so commonplace among Swedish-Americans that the main street in Swedish-American neighborhoods was dubbed “snus boulevard” by Americans. Snus became a hallmark of Swedish identity in the New World.

Monopolization and The Resurgence: 1900-1970

The early 20th century saw the Swedish government reintroducing a tobacco monopoly in 1915 to fund defense and the first pension reform. The monopoly, executed by AB Svenska Tobaksmonopolet, led to a rapid increase in snus consumption, hitting a record in 1919 with 7,000 tons of snus sold. With a population of 6 million, this translated to a consumption of 1.2 kg per capita.

However, the subsequent years saw a decline in snus popularity as cigarettes, influenced by American trends post World War II, became the tobacco product of choice.

Snus: The Modern Era Success Story: 1970-Present

The late 1960s marked the beginning of snus’s comeback. The health risks associated with cigarette smoking highlighted in various reports pushed many towards snus. The 1970s saw the introduction of the first portion snus, making it more user-friendly and contributing to its rising popularity. Since then, the trajectory of snus has been upward, reflecting its enduring appeal in a health-conscious world.

Snus has not only stood the test of time but adapted and thrived, showcasing a remarkable journey from leaf to lip. As you enjoy that pinch of snus, remember, you’re partaking in a legacy that’s centuries old!

Embracing the Future: Tobacco-Free Nicotine Pouches

The health consciousness wave of the 21st century has nudged snus into a new era of innovation—enter tobacco-free nicotine pouches. These pouches offer a cleaner and potentially safer alternative to traditional snus while retaining the essence of the snus experience.

You might be wondering, what exactly are tobacco-free nicotine pouches? Well, they are white, discreet pouches filled with synthetic or plant-derived nicotine, fibers, and fresh flavors. They provide a tobacco-free way to enjoy nicotine, minimizing the risks associated with tobacco use.

Here’s why they are gaining traction:

  • Health-Friendly: By eliminating tobacco, these pouches reduce exposure to harmful tobacco constituents. They cater to the health-conscious consumer, offering a less harmful way to satisfy nicotine cravings.
  • Clean and Discreet: Unlike traditional snus, they don’t stain your teeth, and their odorless nature makes them more socially acceptable.
  • Variety of Flavors: The market is burgeoning with a variety of flavors and nicotine strengths, allowing you to choose according to your preference.

The innovation doesn’t stop here; the industry is continually exploring new formulations and flavors to enhance the user experience. As we venture into the future, the focus is on improving the safety profile and reducing the environmental impact of snus and nicotine pouch products. The journey of snus, from a simple blend of tobacco, salt, and water to sophisticated, health-conscious nicotine pouches, exemplifies the continuous evolution to meet the changing needs and preferences of consumers.

So, as you pop in a nicotine pouch or enjoy a pinch of traditional snus, you’re not just indulging in a moment of pleasure, but you’re also part of a long, ever-evolving tradition that continues to adapt and thrive in the face of changing societal norms and health paradigms.