The Modern Day Scandinavian Snuff: What is it and Why is it Only Legal in Sweden?


When most people hear the word snuff they think of 17th-century Britons sniffing a specific type of tobacco which really is not in common use in this day and age. However, snus, a type of nicotine patch which is inserted under one’s upper lip is derived from the same snuff tobacco that was common many moons ago.

According to the EU, all types of tobacco for oral use which are not chewed or smoked are illegal, and snus falls under this category. Yet, it is still commonplace throughout Scandinavia, with Sweden being the only country that does not have to abide by this EU law.

The snuff most British people will be aware of was also commonly in use throughout Scandinavia in the 1600s. However, it was mainly associated with people of the higher classes, and Sweden did not start producing its own snuff until the end of the 18th century. Closely after this in the early 1800s, the wet, lip-snuff, now known as snus, was introduced as an alternative to the expensive nose-snuff and chewing tobacco. Snus has been extremely common in Scandinavian culture since then, and if anything, is now more associated with the working class. You can buy it either loose or in prepackaged dose-patches and much like with cigarettes, you have to be 18 years or older to buy the product. You will oftentimes find Swedes walking around with a worn-out ring in the back pocket of their jeans from their boxes of snus.

Snus tobacco \ Credit: abvrockgroup [CC0 Creative Commons], via Pixabay
Despite production and selling being legal solely in Sweden, to ‘snusa’ is common throughout Scandinavia, especially in Denmark as it is often taken across the borders. When it comes to taking the nicotine in and out of countries the laws are fussy, but as long as one does not aim to re-sell copious amounts once past the border, police are not very strict on its movement.

Personally, I took two boxes with me after Easter this year, unaware of the previously mentioned EU law, and had no issues storing it in my carry-on bag. Nevertheless, this is not a practice I’d recommend and I only took it with me because I had friends in the UK who wanted to try this Swedish speciality.

Since snuff is so outdated one might ask why this modern type is still prevalent and sought after. Well, firstly, much like cigarettes, a lot of older generations started through peer pressure and then got addicted to the nicotine. Nowadays, however, it is most common in two other ways. Either people will take up snus as an alternative to smoking as it provides the same amount of nicotine but without the lung damage, and some medical professionals do recommend this method over traditional cigarettes. Or many young people will ‘snusa’ when they are drunk, as the nicotine gives you a rush, making you feel more intoxicated. This is similar to how some people socially or party-smoke. However, while snus may be better for your lungs than cigarettes, it is still far from healthy.

Nicotine is widely known to be bad for the body, and like cigarettes, snus also contains dangerous metals and has therefore been linked to certain types of cancer. Furthermore, constant usage of the product can lead to severe damage to your upper lip as substances in the product corrode the skin in order for the nicotine to quickly get into the bloodstream.


Editor 20/21. Final year English student with a passion for activism, traveling, and iced coffee.

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