snuff, preparation of pulverized tobacco used by sniffing it into the nostrils, chewing it, or placing it between the gums and the cheek. The blended tobacco from which it is made is often aged for two or three years, fermented at least twice, ground, and usually flavored and scented. In pre-Columbian times, snuff was used in the West Indies, in Mexico, and in parts of South America. Adoption of the practice in Europe was encouraged by belief in its medicinal virtue. From Europe the custom was carried to the Middle East and Asia. The highest status of snuff taking was attained in the 18th cent., when it was practiced by both men and women. The richly ornamented snuffboxes of the time are now esteemed by collectors. A ritual of taking snuff developed, with prescribed ways of tapping and opening the box and offering it to others. Later the practice of dipping snuff into the mouth with a stick or brush, or of inserting it between the cheek and gums, largely replaced sniffing it into the nostrils.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.