The Swedish snus history
The history of snus dates back to the 18th century, with Ettan being one of the first snus manufacturers in 1822. Looking back at snus consumption, especially in the past hundred or so years, we see record levels – then and now! It’s an amazing testament to snus and its ability to navigate the times.
For example, let’s look at consumption in 1919. At its peak during the year, it’s consumption ranged into seven thousand tons! And a century later, we see that same level of consumption per year.
Sweden’s population has risen in the past century, and therefore the levels of consumption have varied alongside population growth. Since 2020, we have seen consumption start to decline just a bit, but otherwise, the popularity of snus continues to endure.
Snus in the past
To better understand the popularity today, let’s go back into the past and what happened between the 1919 and 2019 peaks. In the century between, snus saw its lowest point in 1968. Only 2,400 metric tons were consumed, and it marked a new period for snus. Because when it arrived at its lowest point, it almost immediately began to climb back.
In 1969 and entering into the 1970s, snus began to slowly return to its previous point of success.
Exploring the decline of snus
So why did snus see a lower period of consumption? Well, it can actually be traced back to one new product entering the market: cigarettes.
Cigarettes joined the market in 1920 and quickly became part of popular culture. A sophisticated prop for movies, a cool staple for rock stars, provided a general air of highbrow sophistication. In the face of this new cultural entry, snus became a relic of the past in some ways, known more for its rural roots.
The rebirth of snus
But as we now know, cigarettes can be incredibly harmful. And as look back at the history of snus, we see that the decline of cigarettes and the new rise of snus go hand-in-hand. For example, as more research emerged in the 1960s about the risks of cancer and other health issues with cigarettes, people began to return to snus.
By the 1970s, women began to use it in earnest, and the product started to see an evolution. The individually wrapped portions of snus that we see now result from a new audience and a new time period. In fact, between the late 90s and early 200s, female consumption of snus skyrocketed to 300%! And as more bans and news emerges around the dangers of tobacco, the more we see customers gravitate back towards snus.
Current data indicates that approximately 10% of Sweden’s population today use snus, with 25% of the users being female.
Tracing back the roots of tobacco
Although nicotine has been used for thousands of years, its use in Europe has been relatively recent. Tracing back tobacco, it originally came from Central America and Peru and was used for thousands of years before making its way towards Europe. In fact, tobacco has really only been in use for the last four hundred years or so in Europe. Arriving in the 15th century, it became more popular as time went on and began to spread in the 17th century.
Tobacco was originally discovered by Columbus and his men on the island of Hispaniola in the West Indies. After observing how indigenous populations were using it, it inspired Columbus to bring it back. The locals would wrap dried and cut tobacco into cornhusks before lighting them up, known as tabagos – or what we might think of now as cigars.
From then on, ocean travelers began to bring back tobacco seeds to Europe in hopes of starting a new industry. It was considered more medicinal rather than a pleasurable activity in its early days, with many using it as a cure for different illnesses and conditions.
However, diplomat Jean Nicot – a French ambassador in Portugal, was the first person to see the potentials of tobacco and what it could become. Through his efforts, we begin to see nicotine and its role grow and how the origins of Swedish snus come together.
Royal pleasure to common enjoyment
In the French royal courts, Catherine de Medici ruled formidably but faced struggles with her health. Migraines plagued her, and no one so far had been able to provide relief.
That is until she met Nicot.
Nicot had a radical solution for her – tobacco. He collected some leaves, drying and grounding them into a powder that the queen could snort. It was a risky move, but it paid off. She was relieved of the headaches and also felt a pleasurable aftereffect, thanks to the nicotine.
Soon, the whole court was partaking in using snuff, and it spread quickly among the elite. Rituals and gestures were coined as etiquette, and it became a staple part of life. And, of course, that began to trickle down into the less affluent classes as it peaked.
However, nearby Sweden also saw snuff’s popularity grow among the upper class. While chewing tobacco tended to be for the working class, there was no denying that tobacco was widely used. By 1724, Swedish King Fredrik I dedicated that it was time for Sweden to stop relying on imports and grow its own tobacco.
The French Revolution, however, brought it all to a halt. Associated with the aristocrats, snuff was rejected. People now favored cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco. Sweden, however, began to see profits from growing their own tobacco. Although the climate did not make it easy, Swedish tobacco began to grow. Farmers began to grind their own homegrown tobacco, creating mixtures to make it stronger and fermenting to let it grow in taste. After fermentation, the product was baked into portions and placed under the lip – and that is how snus came to be.
Snus begins to grow
As more and more of these mixtures came to be, manufacturers saw an opportunity for mass production. Swedish snus became its own market, with each town creating its own version of snus. Classic brands began to emerge, some of which might sound familiar such as, Fiedler & Lundgren and Eric Mellgren, and of course, Ljunglöfs Ettan.
It’s safe to say that Ljunglöf’s Ettan had a massive impact on how snus was manufactured. Their products lasted longer, were cleaner, and manufactured incredibly quickly, paving the way for a snus empire that continues to retain its popularity today.
But the growth of tobacco brought with it increased scrutiny. By 1914, the Swedish parliament was set to nationalize the industry and gain more revenue for war and pensions. With that decision, snus manufacturers were brought into one entity, becoming AB Svenska Tobakmonopolet and owned by the state rather than family businesses that had worked so hard to establish.
Snus products decreased, going from 400 to 17 in the span of two years, with employment going down as well. While some snus manufacturers were able to leave and continue running their own private businesses, others were not so lucky.
But after 1960, things began to change. International trade developed, leading to the creation of a free market – and the downfall of monopolies. The state chose to take out the world monopoly and became a part-owner rather than the sole owner of what had now become Swedish Match. The Swedish government officially ended monopoly 1967, but snus production didn’t see an impact. Until the boom of the 2000s, snus remained relatively stable.
Now, however, is a different story. Currently, there are about 12-14 snus producers, and the market is growing. The number of snus products have steadily increased, offering customers variety in brands and the types of products available, thereby helping the snus industry grow.