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.