Rise Fall and Rise of Snuff – Dr. Stephen Brennan — 3rd March 2014

Snuff  (Nicotania Rustica and Tabacum) is tobacco leaves, dried and crushed to a powder, then graded. Many vari­et­ies and fla­vours are man­u­fac­tured, depend­ing on the plant, the addit­ives, the mois­ture con­tent, and the coarse­ness.

Dr. Brennan took us back 18000 years to when tobacco was known to have been smoked first. It has been used in most civil­isa­tions since, and intro­duced into Europe in 1493, the year after Columbus dis­covered the Americas. In the 16th cen­tury in Spain and Portugal the Court Society smoked it and used it in many dubi­ous ways to attempt to cure ill­nesses. When the British par­took, they used it for pleas­ure and spread it around the world via the Colonies. The State of Virginia was foun­ded in 1607, and the plant­a­tions triggered the slave trade. The 17th cen­tury was the age of the pipe, but during a naval battle at Vigo in Spain in 1702 where a Spanish cargo of snuff exploded and the res­ult­ant debris landed on a British ship, it put out a fire on the ship. Snuff hit the head­lines and hence­forth became the favoured social habit.

Tobacco and snuff were then heav­ily pro­moted as having many dif­fer­ent vir­tues and they hence became a valu­able com­mod­ity and almost became a cur­rency. The 19th cen­tury saw the cigar become pop­u­lar, fol­lowed by the 20th cen­tury which embraced the cigar­ette, the first fact­ory having been built in 1864.

Snuff although addict­ive, is con­sidered safer than tobacco, as hydro­car­bons, which cause cancer, are only pro­duced when burn­ing the tobacco. There is no tax on snuff and it has been cal­cu­lated that if smokers took up snuff there would be 55000 less deaths each year.

Dr. Brennan talked about the many vari­et­ies of snuff box and the Lawrence curved hinged lid, spe­cific­ally designed to pre­vent leak­age.

There are only 3 places in the UK pro­du­cing snuff today as opposed to 12 in 1963. The Sheffield fact­ory of Wilsons still pro­duce small quant­it­ies, having star­ted in 1737, but are exper­i­en­cing an increased demand, espe­cially from abroad. Tapton Hall and the Charnwood Hotel were built by the Wilson family, in their heyday.

We were instruc­ted how to inhale snuff and also heard some of Dr. Brennan’s per­sonal exper­i­ences with some amus­ing situ­ations con­flict­ing with his job as a Consultant Chest Physician.

From a show of hands, most of the mem­bers had smoked at some time, but none did so now!

Thanks must go to Dr. Brennan for a most enter­tain­ing and instruct­ive morn­ing, very much enjoyed by every­one.