Smoking in pubs will soon be stubbed out by law but tobacco addicts looking for a nicotine rush have another option... although it's not a pretty one.
By Georgina Pattinson
Nicotine, as any smoker will tell you, is not the kind of substance to release its hold just because the government has decreed it unacceptable.
The smoking ban in pubs, which comes into force in England and Northern Ireland next year, and already exists in Scotland, may help demonise cigarettes but serious smokers will look elsewhere for their nicotine fix.
Some will venture outside for a sneaky puff between pints, but others might see salvation in snuff - a finely ground tobacco that goes up the nose.
Once the preserve of the foppish aristocrat, snuff is experiencing a small resurgence in popularity.
Sales at Wilsons & Co (Sharrow) Ltd have grown by 10% over the past two years, says Jeremy Archdale, one of descendents of the original family, who started the Sheffield-based company in 1737.
"It's amazing how many younger people are looking at snuff and it's happening in other countries. We had some visitors from Switzerland 10 days ago, who said the average age of snuff users there is 24," says Mr Archdale.
He doesn't think health concerns are driving snuff's mini-revival - it actually delivers far more of a nicotine hit than cigarettes - rather, a resurgence of interest in the stuff itself.
Ironically, given government efforts to stamp out smoking in public places, snuff even appears to have the official seal of approval.
Snuff is provided, for members and officers of the House of Commons, at the doorkeepers' box at the entrance to the Chamber - a tradition going back to the 18th Century. How many MPs actually endorse it is, of course, another matter.
But at one pub the snuff craze has been going for decades. Drinkers at the Star Inn in Somerset are offered free snuff with their pints and landlord Paul Waters says it's becoming popular with younger drinkers.
"It goes very well with a pint but it has the image of being associated with older gentlemen," says Mr Waters. "But we've been recently seeing more and more younger people coming in and giving it a try.
"When the smoking ban kicks in next year we're expecting a lot more people to come in and use the snuff. It has got much more of a kick than many modern cigarettes and it comes in lots of different flavours."
The health warnings were only introduced in the last two years
But Cancer Research UK says those switching from smoking to snuff "will still be putting their health at serious risk".
"Snuff refers to a number of different products ranging from moist snuff, which is taken orally, to dry snuff, which is taken nasally," says the campaign group's director of tobacco control, Jean King.
"Individual products vary in their harmfulness and all are addictive because they contain nicotine."
Alternative tobaccos might seem novel, but they can be killers. The US National Cancer Institute points out that chewing tobacco can cause cancer of the oral cavity and more research is being done on the effects of snuff.
If the health risks aren't bad enough, snuff also struggles with a bit of an image problem. Granted, it comes in a range of alluring scents - rose, cinnamon or mint, for example - and extraordinary flavours, such as whisky and camphor, but sniffing is rarely a dignified act.
Advice from the Wilsons website says the habit requires "a little perseverance". Perseverance indeed... to ingest it, one takes a pinch of snuff between thumb and finger and - there is no other way to describe it - inserts it up the nose.
A short, sharp sniff will send the tingling powder shooting up the nasal passages. Sneezing is inevitable, but experts say this subsides after a few more sniffs.
So, for the first-time snuffer, what's it like?
JJ Fox & Robert Lewis is a venerable tobacconist in the heart of London. Its main business is cigars but it does sell some snuff.
My two purchases come to a dizzying Ģ1.60 - and that's enough snuff to last a serious user for a while.
Manager Paul Bielby says the Chinese used to take snuff from a small spoon, but I tap a little Red Bull - a strong menthol-scented snuff - on to the back of my hand.
As the soft brown powder hits the air, the scent of menthol rises strongly. I take a firm pinch as recommended and sniff hard. The scent rushes up my nose and the menthol immediately clears my head. I also get the nicotine rush that comes with smoking a cigarette although this feels a bit more intense, as if my senses seem sharpened.
Next up, is Ozona Raspberry. This does not go down so well, with its sickly smell.
A large handkerchief at the ready...
My Other smokers aren't so keen on the idea.
Chef Peter Sawers, 37, says his grandfather used to take snuff and he tried it once - "but never again" - while Aymone Faust, a 32-year-old sales assistant, vows she is sticking to cigarettes.
"I'd try it, maybe at home though. I wouldn't be embarrassed about trying it in the pub. I'd feel healthier than smoking more cigarettes."
The fact remains that inhaling snuff looks as daft as snorting cocaine. Like it or not, many people believe smoking retains an indefinable air of cool. Shoving a load of powder up one's nose is hardly glamorous.
But it is heady, inexpensive and just a little bit eccentric. It could catch on.
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
Interesting article. I have this thought. If snuff catches on, how would this affect the smoking at work issues? There is no smoke, so technically you could to it in the office. Have any questions been asked as yet as to how this would be affected by HR policies?
Rachel Knight, Annesley Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire
Smoking "retains an indefinable air of cool"? Are you kidding? It's a filthy repugnant habit, and I've always thought those I see smoking were simple minded, never cool.
Let's face the innevitable, tobacco is on the downward trend and should eventually be phased out. I am a smoker but welcome all of this change so as to help me kick the habit. Snuff is definitely an unsavoury alternative.
Chris Taylor, Liphook, Hampshire
I tried snuff for about a month once, and it certainly gives a nicotine hit. The trouble is that itīs not a very hygenic habit. What goes up your nose comes back down again after it has finished irritating your sinuses...so make sure you carry a hankie if you use it.
As a non-smoker, I'm happy for this to catch on! If people are addicted to nicotine, and are damaging their health however they ingest it, at least this way, they're not doing anyone else any harm. It's a more socially responsible way of getting their fix! However, the only problem is that the idea of a smoking ban in public places may otherwise encourage smokers to quit their habit altogether - having a way around quitting, such as readily available snuff, may mean that some would-be quitters don't quit, and so continue to damage their health. Thus, as always, there are two sides to the coin.
Esther Rousay, Southampton
Is this stuff bad for you? And if so, would you write an article like this about cigarettes and their different flavours and publish it on a website like this?
Guy Dennis, London
Stock up with snuff now is my advice before the govt. cottons on and taxes it out of reach.
Raymond F. Breakspear, Ashford, Kent. UK.
The best thing which can be said about snuff is that it's not a selfish habit like smoking - there is no "passive sniffing" and your habit does not affect the health of others.
How about you just get a life and stop being so insecure. It would seem to me that some people have just never got over their childhood dependence on their dummies and seek to substitute it with some other object in there adult lives. Do yourself a favour and quit all tobacco-based products and get a grip!
Skoobabloke, Prague, CZ (Ex-Pat)
I have tried and bought snuff in the past but stopped when faced with a problem which many younger users would possibly face. When stopped a few years ago on a night out i was arrested when police found my snuff on my person and arrested me on suspicion of possession with intent to supply heroin. Not sure if i'd risk another night in the cells, more likely to nip out of the pub or even flout the laws entirely and risk a fine!
Ness, Newcastle, England
Chewing tobacco is a bit worse from the glam perspective. Perhaps nicotine gum or patches could be additional options, available here over the counter in generic forms, but they are still expensive and addictive.
Candace, New Jersey, US
Great article, i have been using the swedish equivelent called snus (taken orally). In the pub there is always great interest. The more adventurous of my friends that have tried it like it. Some have even taken up the habit, however more on a part times basis. I have also been using snuff in Africa when my snus supplies have run out, both i think are great alternatives too cigarettes, however they do carry their health risks, not just cancer as stated above but also higher risks of heart disease etc. Cheers Doug.
Douglas Skoog, Ascot
With the pub ban on I can understand the problem;but the substitution of snuff for cigarettes is about as smart as avoiding pregnacy by employing anal sex.Let's just not mention chewing tobacco,ok?
Rob P., Vancouver, Canada
If smokers want to substitute the so called cancer sticks with snuff, then so be it. As an asthmatic non-smoker, I will merely be relieved that I will no longer have to partake in the activity passively!
JM , York
My husband is Swedish and uses 'snus', a tobacco product that comes in little round boxes. Most popular varities come in little T-bag like pouches that can be tucked discretely between lip and gum. It smells disgusting (do not kiss someone with snus in their mouth!), leaves nasty brown stains in the lavatory bowl, but I don't have to smell or breathe in cigarette smoke when he uses it. It is a traditional product in Sweden and is great for those addicted, to use in the cinema, during flights etc. No - I have never tried it.
Barbara, Copenhagen, Denmark
Hmm. Another pro-tobacco story on the BBC website. Are we hearing the journo's agenda here? Certainly not a responsible attitude to public health. Perhaps a warning that tobacco taken into the mouth causes oral cancer? No, of course not.
Richard Smith, London
Maybe you could ask the Department of health an opinion on the sale of oral tobacco. As far as I am aware oral tobacco has been banned in all EU Member States for many years (apart from Sweden we got an exemption after a successful save our snuss campaign). Therefore, I am a little confused as to what the BBC is encouraging everyone to do. I would have thought that those that are selling chewing tobacco, etc in the UK are in fact breaking UK / EU law - surely the BBC does not want to become complicit in this?
Nicholas Bridgland, Brussels, Belgium
Snuff wont catch on, the only result in a smoking ban will be more people breaking the law.
Harry, Halesworth, Suffolk
Fine. Stupid people kill themselves and I don't have to breathe it.
If snuff does become popular - or at least more commonplace - in pubs and bars, surely it will be only a matter of time before other powders such as cocaine are passed off as snuff and people stop heading to the toilets to do a line and do it in public places. I can't imagine anything worse than going for a drink with friends and being surrounded by people sneezing and snorting, whether the powder is legal or illegal.
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