Snus History

1400s-1500s – The early history of snus

Exactly when humanity started to use tobacco is not known, but Europeans first came into contact with the plant when Christopher Columbus reached the island of Haiti in the West Indies in October 1492. As he and his men came ashore they were greeted by indigenous people bearing gifts, including some dried tobacco leaves the natives believed were enormously precious.

In 1497, the monk Ramon Pane joined Columbus on his second journey to America, where he came in contact with the precursor of snus. Pane saw Indian priests inhale a powder through a tube into their noses. According to scientists, this powder did not entirely consist of tobacco, but the snuffing itself influenced tobacco usage when it was introduced in Europe.

The tobacco plant was brought to Europe by Spanish and Portuguese sailors. In mid-16th-century Lisbon, the plant was used for medical purposes by doctors, who grew tobacco in their own gardens. They believed the herb could cure both syphilis and cancer, among other illnesses.

Jean Nicot – An early adaptor

Jean Nicot, a French ambassador in Lisbon, was a greatly important figure in the development of snuff usage — so much so that Carl von Linné used Nicot’s name when he classified the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum in Latin. In the 1560s, Nicot came in contact with the tobacco plant for the first time in the gardens of Lisbon. He became so enchanted with tobacco that he brought some back with him to Paris.

Once in Paris, it is said that Nicot used the plant to help the French Queen, Catherine de Medici, get rid of her headaches. When Nicot heard that the queen suffered from chronic pain, he advised her to crumble tobacco leaves and inhale the powder through her nose. When the queen followed his advice, her headache disappeared. After that, snus was in high demand in French court circles.

1600s-1700s – Snus reaches Sweden

At that time, Paris served as a model for many European courts, and it was not long until snuff-usage had spread throughout Europe. The first time it was mentioned in Sweden was in a 1637 customs document that said snuff (known in Sweden as snus) had been brought to Sweden from Borgå, in Finland.

In the 18th century snus usage became a must among the ladies and gentlemen of the upper classes. A snuff-box was essential to a fine 18th-century man’s outfit. Befitting the beholder’s station, snus cans were valuable symbols of elegance. The cans fast became one of the most popular gifts of the time, and were masterpieces made of gold, silver and other precious materials.

The breakthrough for the Swedish tobacco industry came in the 1700s, when tobacco was grown in Skåne (Scania), Gränna, and Alingsås — where the father of potatoes, Jonas Alströmer, started a tobacco plantation of considerable size. By the end of the 1700s tobacco was grown in as many as 70 Swedish towns.

The decrease of snus

The French revolution ended the adoration of the upper classes who had traditionally partaken of snus. Under Napoleon, who was a heavy snuffer, snus use temporarily increased. But after his downfall it becomes unfashionable — and even politically risky — to continue using snus. Taking snus become old-fashioned, and the Burghers who took power started smoking cigars instead.

1800s – Snus usage changes

Political development in 19th-century Sweden coincided with the change of snus usage itself. Swedish farmers, who found smoking or snuffing difficult while working, began putting a pinch of snus beneath their upper lip, freeing up both their hands for labor. Farmers would grind their snus in a coffee-grinder or homemade snus-grinder. Soon, Swedish consumers were following suit, leading to the modern era of snus usage.

1800s-1900s – Snus manufacturers

In the 19th century producers began to manufacture local brands of moist snus. Some famous brands were WM Hellgren’s Generalsnus and Petter Swarz’s Röda Lacket, but the biggest brand was Ljunglöf’s Ettan (Number One). Jacob Fredrik Ljunglöf’s snus factory on Stockholm’s Badstugatan Street — today’s Sveavägen Street — has its roots in a tobacco company founded in 1695. Jacob Fredrik Ljunglöf started manufacturing snus there in 1822, and quickly made it one of Europe’s leading snus factories.

Nearly all 19th-century snus manufacturers had their own selection of snus No: 1, No: 2 and No: 3, representing different product quality. Ljunglöf launched his trademark No: 1 as a high-quality nation-wide product, and it quickly became known as Ettan (Number One). Even today it is one of Sweden’s biggest brands, representing a fifth of Swedish snus sales.


When more than one million Swedes emigrated over the Atlantic between 1846 and 1930, they brought Swedish tradition with them, including snus usage. In one Swedish-American district it was so common to take snus that American’s started calling the main street Snus Boulevard. Snus had become one of the Swedish people’s characteristics.

The establishment of a monopoly

In the beginning of the 20th century the Swedish government found itself in need of money for both national defense and the first pension reform. The Swedish people decided the money would come from tobacco. A new establishment of a tobacco monopoly was introduced in 1915, after a break of 250 years. It was run by the stock company Ltd Swedish Tobacco.

Meanwhile, the consumption of snus increased rapidly. In 1919 it reached record level, with 7.000 tons of snus sold. Sweden’s population that year was 6 million people, a consumption of 1,2 kilo per person.

Over the following years, snus usage decreased as other tobacco products became more popular. After the Second World War, with the rise of the American trend, cigarettes became an especially fashionable tobacco choice.

1970s to today – A success story

At the end of 1960s, snus again become increasingly popular, as the health risks associated with cigarette smoking were revealed in a number of reports.

The first portion-packed snus was launched in the 1970s, an important step for snus reaching a wider clientele.

Since then, sales of snus have kept increasing. During 2003, 193 million cans of snus—6,761 tons—were sold to approximately one million snus users in Sweden. Never before had such a great number of Swedish people of all social classes used snus. The usage of snus has also taken a step over the customary gender barriers, and women now account for nearly a fifth of snus consumers.

Additionally, strong traditions of snus usage have developed in Northern Europe, North America, Africa and some countries in Asia.