Hiya everybody. I mention snus quite a bit here on B&B, and I get PM's from folks interested in it. Many of us here in America are in the dark about it, and only recently with Camel SNUS coming out here, have most of us even heard of it. I figured an in-depth look at Snus was in order.
This is a long article that tries to field every question I've ever had asked of me regarding snus, as well as every question I asked when I first started using it. I tried to cover as much as possible, so if you see anything I didn't include, or would like any more info, by all means mention it. I'd also like for my fellow Gentlemen snusers to chime in and let me know if I left anything out.
This article is split up into ten sections, written as follows:
I. Snus, what is it?
II. The History of Snus
III. Brands, companies, types and flavors
V. Where to purchase
VI. Lös (loose) vs. portions
VII. Baking lös snus
VIII. What to expect your first few weeks of snusing
IX. Storage and refrigeration
I. Snus: what is it?
Snus is a form of oral tobacco originating in Sweden. Snus is pronounced “snoose” and not “snuss”. It is one of the oldest, safest forms of tobacco consumption known to man. Starting in Sweden almost three hundred years ago, it has been primarily a Scandinavian phenomena until this last decade, where it has taken hold in Europe and America. It is smokeless, spitless, and relatively non-carcinogenic. It has been widely successful as a smoke deterrent and cessation tool.
Snus comes primarily in two forms: powdered and portioned. In its loose, or powdered form, snus resembles American smokeless “dip” like Copenhagen or Skoal. This is where the similarity ends. I’ll go into the differences later. In its portioned form, snus is packed into a teabag-like pouch that promotes more flavor and faster nicotine intake. For being a relatively new way to consume snus, portions are by far the most popular form of snus today, comprising 4/5ths of the total marketplace. Snusers are primarily males. Female snus use is steadily on the rise, however, and they account for one fifth of total snusers today.
Snus is not dip. American dip/oral snuff is fire cured and fermented, which causes the TSNA count (tobacco specific carcinogens) to elevate to an unacceptable degree. It also makes the run-off juice unfit to swallow, or “gut”. (It should be noted that American brands that air-cure their tobacco like the Swedes do have a significantly lower TSNA count compared to the leading snuff brands. These US based snuff brands that use the “Swedish Process” for curing tobacco include Timber Wolf, Kodiak, and Hawken.) Dip is thrown in the bottom lip, whereas snus is used in the upper lip.
Snus is pasteurized, which reduces the amount of TSNA’s to obscenely low levels. This also makes the run-off juice safe to swallow. It is perfectly acceptable to use snus however you see fit- you can swallow or spit the juice out and you can use it in the bottom lip if you so desire. I’d just like to point out that there is a reason that the upper lip is the preferred place for snus. Your salivatory glands are on the bottom of your mouth, which makes the juices run much stronger in your bottom lip. This is fine for longer cut American brands, but finer cut Swedish brands will come apart too easily in the bottom lip due to the excess saliva. This is what is known as a “mudslide”. Either way, the Swedes have been doing it this way for the last 300 years, so I won’t argue with success. I upper lip it like a mug.
II. Snus- The History
Snus came to Sweden sometime around 1700. Tobacco was becoming popular in Europe, and pipe smoking and cigars were all the rage. In Sweden, nasal snuff was by far the most popular way to consume tobacco among the working class. Tobacco was hard to grow in Sweden, and what little that did grow was usually substandard. The Virginia tobacco imported from America came at a premium, and usually the only thing a middle class farmer could purchase was a Number Two or Three grade leaf, which didn’t lend itself to smoking very well. (The numbering system referred to the quality of the stalk. Two and three were considered substandard, often damaged by mold or improper curing). Therefore, the moldy, musty scent was cheaply masked with Juniper, Citrus and Lingonberry and the leaves were ground into fine cut nasal snuff.
Swedish farmers began wadding up a pinch of the snuff and placing it in their upper lip, so as to keep their hands free for work. This oral placement soon replaced nasal use as the preferred way to use snuff tobacco. Soon, companies began tailoring their snuff recipes with the oral “snuser” in mind, and a new industry flourished. By the mid 1700’s, Swedish snus was being exported to all of Europe. As a matter of fact, Röda Lacket debuted in 1753 and is still in production today.
The man most responsible for making snus what it is today is Jacob Fredrick Ljunglöf. Ljunglöf tired of all the “No.2” and “No.3” grades of snus out there that were covering their natural tobacco taste with cheap flavorings in order to mask their unpleasant, often rotten, tobacco leaves. Taking a cue from Louis Pasteur, Ljunglöf applied the pasteurization process to all of his snus brands, including the best selling snus in the world, “JF Ljunglöfs Ettan”; a brand that debuted in 1822 and literally meant “Number One”. Ljunglöfs Ettan was made using only the finest premium Virginia tobacco, and it was by far the most popular brand available. The only ingredients in Ettan were water, tobacco, and salt. This was a ballsy move at that time, as hardly any snus maker had access to premium tobacco blends that they didn't have to mask under artificial fruit flavors.
Still, Ljunglöf was constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of his snus. He theorized that baking at a low temperature like milk would give all of his tobacco a pure, uniform taste that didn’t vary from batch to batch. Little did he know that the combination of air curing his tobacco as well as pasteurization of the snus reduced the number of (still unknown at the time) carcinogenic nitrosamines that could lead to mouth cancer in repeated use. In trying to make his product the best tasting, he also made it the safest way to ingest tobacco, a way that the rest of the world is only now starting to fully realize.
Today, Ettan is the second best selling brand in the world. The best selling brand is General, another snus that debuted about the same time as Ettan. Other brand names that debuted in the 1800’s that are still in production today include Grov and Gotebörg’s Rapé.
Snus was still the most popular form of tobacco in Sweden and Norway at the turn of the century. Neighboring Denmark was more fond of pipes and cigars (which may have had more to do with a national dislike for all things Swedish rather than a dislike of snus.) Ettan was being shipped over to the United States for consumption by Swedish immigrants to the “new country”. In fact, a contemporary newspaper printed in Gotebörg summed up the main dilemma facing Swedish expatriates- “The real trouble for the Swedes [in other countries] is that tolerable snus can’t be bought for love or money.”
However, the economy of Sweden was nearly bankrupt by 1915 and the snus industry (the country’s biggest financial asset) was seized by the government in order to finance the country. All of the independent snus factories were absorbed by the government and merged into one company- the Svenskt Tobaksmonopolet or, Swedish Tobacco Monopoly. Production of all the major brands still continued under the new deal, but all of the proceeds went to the government. It was very similar to when Castro seized control of all of Cuba’s cigar makers in 1959.
Under the new economic crisis, Swedish immigrants began heading en masse into the US, and with them they brought their snus. In its heyday, snus was so popular in areas that had a large Swedish population that streets, political parties, and neighborhoods all carried names like Snoose Boulevard, Snus Junction, Snus Hill, etc. Chicago had a large Swedish population and housed the first American snus brands in the teens and twenties. They were all gone by 1940 (except for Red Seal, which is still around today, though it hasn’t been called “snus” since the thirties), victims of cheaper to manufacture, more popular names like Copenhagen and Skoal. With the death of snus in America, came the birth of dip.
Some early American snus brands like Seal, Anchor, Green Seal, Red Seal, and Svenkstsnus were all big in their day, but were expensive to produce. It was also becoming exceedingly difficult to import Swedish brands, so Swedish immigrants began trying to find cheaper ways to manufacture snus. Copenhagen and Skoal were the direct results of that tinkering. Using the techniques and ingredients available to them in this country, a substitute for snus had been created. Gone was the air cured, pasteurized tobacco of their homeland and in was the fire cured, fermented tobacco of their new country. Thus, the history of American oral snuff can be directly traced back to Swedish snus.
Over in Sweden, cigarettes were gradually becoming more and more popular as they were in the US, but a great many Swedes still took snus. In 1973, the Snus Monopoly was disbanded and renamed Swedish Match. Today, Swedish Match still commands 90% of the snus market, as well as a sizable chunk of the US smokeless market and cigar industry. Besides partnering with Phillip Morris Inc, Swedish Match also owns General Cigar and Cigar International as well as the Cohiba, Red Man and Kayak brands.
Today: Sweden and the EU
In response to a very public anti-smoking campaign by the Swedish government, many people “rediscovered” snus in the seventies. In 1977, Swedish Match introduced Tre Ankare, the first pouched “portion” snus, which was an immediate hit and was instrumental in converting a nation of Swedish smokers over to the world of snus, whose reputation for being a safer form of tobacco indulgence was soon put to the test by the Swedish equivalent of the FDA.
The Swedish FDA began a comprehensive thirty year study of the effects of snus on the adult male. This coincided with the regulation of snus as a food-grade product, whose ingredients and composition were now printed on the can itself. A preliminary warning that “snus may cause oral cancer” was later removed from all snus cans, as the thirty year study resulted in the finding that snus could not be linked to any form of cancer, oral or otherwise. The Swedish Government guarantees the safety of its snus and refuses to concede that it is a harmful substance when used in moderation, as there is no real evidence showing any link towards derogatory health risks. (Like all nicotine products, abuse of nicotine in the long term may lead to hardened arteries. Or, it may lead to softened arteries, depending on which studies you read.) Most Swedish health officials advocate strongly the use of snus to stop smoking- in fact, a recent poll suggests that the majority of Swedish health workers use snus.
Regardless of what you choose to believe regarding tobacco safety, the evidence speaks for itself. Sweden uses more tobacco per person than the US, yet has the lowest cancer rate in all of Europe. Smoking in Sweden is far from commonplace, banned everywhere except your own home and yard. Lung cancer is virtually unheard of. However, the EU banned all oral tobacco in the 1980’s, and lumped snus in with American style oral tobacco when comparing the risks of taking snuff, although no snus was even tested. This angered the Swedish government royally, and they refused admission into the EU unless the ban on snus was lifted. It took a decade, but the EU finally relented and Sweden is now a member of the EU. The snus ban is lifted at least in Sweden, though the unofficial Swedish position seems to be one of “we’ll back out if you cross us, especially regarding snus”. Truly, the rest of Europe has no idea how serious the Swedes are when it comes to their snus consumption. Wars have been fought over less.
Today: The USA
Here in the US, we have a smattering of companies making snus now, in an attempt to replicate the success that Sweden had in making smokers substitute cigarettes for snus. Most snusers are of the opinion that the stuff being made in the US right now is not representative of Swedish snus. At last count, the handful of companies making snus in America include RJR (Camel), Lorillard (Triumph), Leggett (Tourney/Grand Prix), Nordic American (Klondike) and a small company called Discreet. Phillip Morris attempted to sell a Marlboro-branded snus in a ploy that could only be described an engineered attempt at failure. (US Smokeless did the same with a Skoal-branded snus.)
A sampling of American snus
Though some of these brands are actually made in Sweden, they are completely opposite of what you can expect from Swedish snus. The American brands, for the most part, suffer from an overly sweetened “candy” flavor and a lack of nicotine. These American brands should in no way hinder someone from trying the “real deal” Swedish brands, they’re basically alike in name only. Comparing domestic snus to Swedish snus is like comparing a fifty cent machine made Philly Blunt to a fifty dollar hand rolled Cuban Robusto- there is simply no comparison.
III. Brands, companies, types and flavors
There are many brands of Swedish snus out there, but you may be surprised to learn that there are only a few companies that make them. As previously noted, Swedish Match is the biggest and oldest of all the companies, comprising roughly 90% of the worldwide snus market. Their top seller is General, followed by Ettan, Goteborgs Rapé, Grov and Röda Lacket. The Catch line is popular amongst women, and their two “budget” brands, Kronan and Tre Ankare, have a small but steady following. They also manufacture Probe (a whiskey flavored snus), Nick and Johnny (a new “Gen X” styled brand) and Onico, a tobacco/nicotine free snus. That’s right- when you want to quit snusing, there are tobacco-free alternatives that are made out of spices, herbs and fruits. They are very popular with women who are pregnant and nursing, or people who otherwise can’t use tobacco.
The General brand
Most Swedish snus fall into the same flavor profile, which could be called “traditional”. Flavored snus is only now starting to become somewhat more accepted by snusers, but most all brands will be flavored mainly with salt, water, tobacco, and possibly bergamot. Swedish Match has a little of everything in their offerings, from the traditional (General, Grov, Ettan, Nick and Johnny, and Tre Ankare) to the slightly sweet (Goteborgs Rapé, Roda Lacket and Probe), to the outright flamboyant Catch line, which is full of sweet, minty, coffee and vanilla licorish flavored crap I could do without. Kronan is a unique snus brand that to me, tastes just like a pickle. For what it’s worth, I prefer brands that have a strong traditional flavor with just a hint of lemon, and General and Grov are my two favorites. Pictured below are some of Swedish Match's offerings:
Another company is F&L, (pictured above) which manufactures Granit, Metropol, Mocca and Retro. Mocca is a brand popular among women due to its mini size and fruity flavors, while the other brands fit the “traditional” strong tobacco flavor.
BAT, or British American Tobacco (above), makes Lucky Strike and Pall Mall snus. They both pretty much taste the same to me, and I believe Pall Mall has been discontinued. Same traditional tobacco flavors.
JTI is a company that manufactures more “traditional” flavored snus, with a specialty in acquiring cigarette branded licenses. They make a Camel, Gustavus, LD, and Level snus. All but Camel may not ring a bell for most Americans, but the other brands are well known budget smokes in Europe. Camel is their “premium” brand while the others should be considered mid and low priced. (For the record, Level is my favorite cheap snus even though it gets a bad rap from most people.)
Skruf is a popular new brand that makes strong snus and some fruit flavored stuff that I personally don’t care for. They also make Knox, which is more of a traditional taste and sold as a budget brand; and for the Canadian market, they manufacture Davidoff snus which is based on the cigar and cigarette line of the same name. They are the best selling company after Swedish Match.
My favorite “little guy” in the snus game is Gotlands. Gotlandssnus makes three flavors; Yellow, Grey and Green. Yellow tastes a lot like Taboca- strong fig and bergamot complexity, while the Grey is anise (licorish flavored). The Green is probably the most unique and complex snus I’ve ever tasted. Most people say it tastes like sour apple, but it’s actually flader (elderberry) which gives it its complex array. It takes you three or four cans of the Flader to truly appreciate its full flavor profile, and using it every day can dull its impact. Gotlands uses only locally grown premium tobacco and has the reputation of being a small mom and pop operation with ultra high standards of operation. The containers they use are of high quality plastic and come without a cellophane wrap (this always confuses most Americans who are used to everything arriving glued together and factory sealed, sanitized for their consumption). Gotlandssnus also makes the Jakobssons line which is a popular “beginner” brand of snus. Around the holidays, Gotlands releases a limited edition “Julessnus”, a Christmas themed limited release that tastes like nutmeg and eggnog. Very tasty stuff, despite the sound of it.
From left to right; JTI, Gotlandssnus, and Skruf AB:
My fellow Brothers OTL may want to make note of Taboca AB, pictured below, which makes Montecristo, Romeo Y Julieta, and Taboca branded snus. They have a traditional, yet unique flavor profile that comprises bergamot, tobacco, fig, and citrus (and in the R&J line, anise as well). Monte and R&J contain Cuban tobacco, which makes it illegal to import to the US. Taboca, however, is grown from Cuban seed in Norway(?) and is legal to import, and tastes enough like the other two brands to make me not miss being unable to order them.
With great sadness I must also bring up two other manufacturers of snus, Phillip Morris and V2 (shown above). Phillip Morris makes “1847”, a brand that comes in an awesome can that houses the most wretched ammonia scented dung I’ve ever tried. Ditto V2- which makes Thunder, Offroad, Phantom, Rothbrix, Odens, Nordströmmen, and an annual limited Christmas flavor. 1847 and V2 brands are the Lilac Vegetal of the snus world- you either love them or hate them. There is no middle ground. Most of the V2 brands are budget lines, and unfortunately most new snusers buy several of them in their first order and end up throwing them out, or worse, ditching snus altogether. They use a lot of humectants which impart a very “unique” chemical stench that can only be described as ammonia mixed with dirt and fruity pebbles. Horrible stuff. You have been warned.
Two more that are barely worth mentioning are Elyxer and Oomph. Elyxer is supposed to be an "energy" snus infused with taurine, but it tastes like toilet water to me. Oomph! is a house brand for the Northerner company (formerly known as Wise) and it's a gimmicky "purified" snus (and also claims to be an "energy" snus) that is supposedly even safer on the TSNA scale than most conventional snus. It's dryer than dirt and not something I would recommend to anyone I liked.
And that’s basically it. There are a few others out there, but not worth mentioning. These are basically all the snus brands you will ever be exposed to unless you go to Sweden, Norway or Denmark- and even then you won’t have as wide a selection as you do over the internet. Some stores offer samplers to get new users started up proper, and I recommend basically starting out with the best known brands first, before venturing into more exotic taste profiles. There’s a reason that the three “G”s (General, Grov and Göteborgs) are the best selling brands, because you generally can’t go wrong with those three. The other big seller, Ettan, is a very plain snus in lös (loose) form, with barely any flavor. The portion version however has a distinct coffee/chocolate/nutmeg taste that would probably appeal to a lot of cigar smokers. General and Grov have, in loose form, a lemony taste, while in portion form they exhibit more citrusy behavior. Goteborg’s Rapé has a very slight sweetness that comes from the lingonberry and juniper. I hear that it is very popular among Gin and Tonic drinkers.
IV. Different strengths, and comparisons to cigarettes:
There are different strengths of snus. Regular, average strength snus is 8 mgs of nicotine, and the minis are 4 mgs. Maxi portions, being twice the size of a regular portion, contain 16 mgs of nicotine. Slightly above average strength snus like Onyx, Grov Black, Montecristo, Romeo Y Julieta and Probe have nicotine counts in the 10-12 mgs range. “Sterk” brands (aka Stark or Strong) start out at 13 mgs and hover between that and 15 mgs. “Ekstra Sterk” brands like Thunder, Odens, and General ES have nicotine counts up to 17mgs. It’s safe to say that if you’re new to snus, you should stay away from the Strong brands at first, until you build up a tolerance for the nicotine.
The nicotine amount of a regular portion is akin to the nicotine you receive from smoking a cigarette, just spread out over the better part of an hour or two. A better way of stating that, is that if you use a regular 8 mg portion, your body is absorbing the same amount of nicotine that you would from a cigarette, but it is doing it more slowly, and the amount of nicotine you ingest stays in your bloodstream for at least an hour after finishing.
As someone who smoked usually four cigarettes per hour, one regular portion in a two and a half hour time frame leaves me the same nicotine “buzz” that I would have received from smoking a half a pack of cigarettes in the same amount of time. Snus truly is the most efficient way to ingest nicotine that I have ever encountered. Almost counter-intuitively, the effects are much more subdued and mellow compared to smoking. When absorbing a cigarette, the initial nicotine buzz is intense, but at best it only lasts about ten minutes before the body burns it off. The delivery from snus is not as initially intense, but much more long lived and evenly distributed compared to smoking.
I chain smoked Camels and Lucky Strike non-filters for a decade and have never felt the need to venture beyond regular strength portions. I generally use about seven portions in a 24 hour day. My girlfriend, however, prefers the strong brands. She only uses about three portions a day, though. To each their own, but I do not want to end up with a massive tolerance for nicotine, nor do I think former smokers “need” a stronger blend of snus. I like coffee, but I do not care for expresso super-jitter blends. That’s what I equate Sterk snus to, less a pleasant tobacco experience and more of a drug-induced speed high.
V: Where to purchase snus:
Ok, you know what it is, where it came from, and what to stay away from, now you need to know where to get it from, and if this is even possible in your state. As far as I know, the only three states that bar shipments of tobacco through the mail are Utah, Washington state, and Vermont. The other 47 states, you should be fine. As always, anything you purchase over the internet requires you to remit the sales tax to your home state- something I’m sure everybody here does each time they order something online, right?
Now, you can order either from Sweden or from the US. The US based store, www.getsnus.com, is my recommendation for the best snus shop online. They have the absolute best prices, quickest shipping, and offer a free sample of snus to first time customers. Shipping runs between 2.95-4.95. Orders over fifty dollars ship free. You get a free “mystery” can for every five cans you order. I can go on and on, but they are my primary provider of all things snus.
Having said that, there are a lot of brands that they don’t carry. Getsnus has everything you should need for your first several months of snusing, but when you want to branch out and try some brands that they don’t carry, you’ll have to order from Sweden. That’s where www.buysnus.com comes into play. It takes about a week to get here, and it costs about a dollar or two higher to ship, but buysnus is a great company and they’re the only Swedish store I deal with. I have ordered from other vendors in the past and their service/prices/selection/shipping were not up to par with the quality service I am used to receiving from buysnus and getsnus.
Special note for anyone living in Canada. Your government hates tobacco, and anyone that uses it. You will probably have to pay an exorbitant tax if your customs agent seizes a shipment. Be duly warned. As far as customs in the US, I have been ordering snus for quite awhile now from Buysnus and have never had to pay a customs fee. Keep your international orders fairly small, like ten cans and under, and always, always, ALWAYS avoid UPS when possible if ordering from Sweden. They absolutely will submit your package to customs and you will have to pay tax on your shipment. Stick with Swiss Post/USPS or Swedish Post/USPS. Do not let the United Parcel Service even come near your shipment.
As far as being able to buy it from a B&M (brick and mortar) store, I have yet to see a store sell General snus, which is as far as I know the only brand of Swedish snus that you can purchase in person in this country. General has a store finder on their website, so inputting your zip code into it may yield a few stores that are listed as carrying it. Call ahead, as none of the stores listed in my area have even heard of General snus, much less carry it. This seems to be a common complaint, as there is nowhere to buy it in most states. For the time being, snus orders are strictly an internet deal.