Tobacco snuff was in use by the European nobility from the 16th Century onwards, becoming both medicine and status symbol, even with the health hazards associated. At some point it fell out of favor, whether for smoking or something else, but was this just a fad that had seen it's time or was there something else associated with it's loss of status among the nobility? If there is a good source on this let me know, I'd be interested to read something substantive on the subject, or on the changing social customs.

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    I don't have any sources, but typically things fall out of favor by high society when it becomes common place. IE, if the middle to lower class start doing it high society will usually drop it like a red-headed step child.
    – DForck42
    Oct 28, 2011 at 14:29
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    At least wet snuff used to be made using Nicotiana rustica rather than Nicotiana vigrginia that is used for smoking tobacco so perhaps the cultivation of the different species may give a hint.
    – liftarn
    Mar 5, 2018 at 8:01
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    An aside remark: When visiting one of Oxford colleges few years ago and staying for dinner, I observed that after the after-dinner sweets we were offered a grey substance to sniff. In response to my joke "what is it, cocaine?", I got stern looks and the answer "of course not, it is tobacco!" Mar 5, 2018 at 17:44

1 Answer 1


If you're interested enough to read a whole book, Smokeless Tobacco in the Western World: 1550-1950 by Jan Rogozinski looks like the one (the new price is ridiculous but there seem to be several used editions for a reasonable amount).

Alternatively, here's an online article that describes the development of cigarettes in America, which I think sheds a fair amount of light on your question.

Essentially, tobacco suitable for smoking used to be produced in the Middle East, but was too expensive to become a common habit in Europe or America. But in 1839 an American slave discovered a new curing process, which made it easy to grow cheap, smokable tobacco on previously marginal land. It became popular with soldiers during the American civil war. A machine for rolling cigarettes was invented in 1884, and cigarettes became very affordable and convenient.

That's all from the article; the rest is personal speculation:

I know in America chewing tobacco had always been more popular than snuff, and it was falling out of favour in late 19th century because people started to notice that the constant spitting was, well, gross. Cigarettes were a neater alternative, once people could afford them.

Snuff isn't so messy, but I think it's noisy and can make you sneeze, so maybe Europeans switched to cigarettes for much the same reasons as Americans.

  • Wow...that's some good information. The book looks like a nice summary that touches on this, but I agree the price is sort of ridiculous for what it is.
    – MichaelF
    Feb 1, 2012 at 9:13
  • it's probably out of print. Keep an eye out for the ebook ;).
    – Rose Ames
    Feb 1, 2012 at 15:14
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    Strange - as an 18 Yr old in London at the end of the 1960s, I and my young colleagues thought an older employee "disgusting" for taking snuff, whilst we virtuously smoked our cigarettes!
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 5, 2018 at 1:32
  • I was under the impression that snuff in the 1700's was not tobacco, but other stuff like nutmeg. Interesting answer/sources. +1 Mar 5, 2018 at 15:55
  • Europeans certainly did smoke small clay pipes in the 17th century. Apr 15, 2023 at 9:58

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