The Swedish Snus portion bags revolutionized the smokeless tobacco industry

Loose snus was considered soggy and unfresh. But the brilliant idea to put snus in a tea bag changed all that. With the invention of the portion bag, snus use will never be the same as it once was.

The Swedish Snus portion bags revolutionized the smokeless tobacco industry

Loose snus was considered soggy and unfresh. But the brilliant idea to put snus in a tea bag changed all that. With the invention of the portion bag, snus use will never be the same as it once was.

Snus has a long tradition in Sweden dating back to the early 18th-century. It is a grind moist steam-pasteurized tobacco whos predecessor was the dry snuff popular among the aristocrats in France. If you are interested in the transition from snuff to snus, you can read more about what snus is and the history of snus on this site.

“Snus deserves a Nobel Prize in medicine”
Lars Dahlgren, CEO Swedish Match, quoted in an article in Dagens Industri 2018-04-04

The master blender remember

In snuspodden (the snus podcast, see list of references below) the Swedish Match master blender Lars Öberg remembers when snus pouches were introduced on the market. It was convenient with pouches, not everybody likes loose snus. They don’t know how to do and it felt unpleasant. Many who tried loose snus did it only once and never again.

Loose snus is not easy to handle if you never have tried it before. The ease of use of the snus pouch was a contributing factor that spread snus to new consumer groups. Today you can find it in fine conference rooms and board rooms. Many women switched smoking for the new snus pouches, says Lars.

The time when snus was equal to loose snus

In a clip from Swedish Radio recorded in 1948, the reporter Manne Berggren talks to the 76-year-old barn foreman Algot Karlsson at Aplaryds mansion outside Torsås in Småland, Sweden.

Swedish Radio - A proper pinch of snus 1948

In the clip, Algot Karlsson talks with the reporter about his life-long snus use. Algot began using snus when he was 7 years old, the same age as when he began school. The teacher didn’t mind as he was a snus user himself, according to Algot.

Algot then talks the reporter into trying a pinch of snus “the proper way” without much success. The reporter is quick to spit out the snus, and Alfred remarks that it is a waste of good snus. Alfred also had the habit to save not fully consumed snus in his bootleg for later reuse. “If I put it behind my ear, someone may take it” he explains to the reporter.

The price for a can of snus in 1948 was SEK 0.58 (ca $0.06) according to Alfred in the clip.

Old snus-cans from the time when Algot was young

Old snus-cans from the time when Algot was young

Snus in the 1960s

Many from the younger generations in Sweden were smoking in the 60s. If you wanted to be cool, you began to smoke. Snus, on the other hand, was not considered cool. It was something old men in the countryside used. But at the end of the 60s, this came to a turning point.

Another factor that made cigarettes popular in the early ’60s was the introduction of the cigarette filter, while snus use was at its record low in the ’60s and ’70s. The start of portions snus later changed the trend to the opposite, ie snus use increased while smoking reduced.

From the USA came alarming news that cigarettes and smoking were causing cancer. It was estimated that millions of people had died in smoke-related diseases, and lung cancer was one of them. Massive information campaigns were started in Sweden and the rest of the world.

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Information campaigns against smoking in the USA

From one information film: “If you want to do something about air pollution, we suggest you start with your lungs. 100 000 doctors have quit smoking cigarettes. You can too. Have you tried one? Don’t!”

Many celebrities publicly announced that they were about to quit smoking. One of the many celebrities that quit smoking was the actor Tony Curtis.


AHA Vintage Anti-Smoking PSAs

Snus was the solution to smoking cessation

Many Swedish smokers quit cigarettes and smoking after the 60s with the help of snus. And in the left-wing progressive movement snus was now considered a cool product to use. A manifestation of the increasing popularity for snus was that the state-owned Svenska Tobaks AB (Swedish Tobacco AB) was a sponsor of the Swedish national hockey team.

From lying on the death-bed, snus gets a new life, especially after the introduction of portioned snus. And as snus found more and more customers, the demand for further development and new products increased. A development that made snus accessible for larger consumer groups.

It started as an unusual proposal

According to Snuspodden, it was a proposal from a home for the elderly in Göteborg that started the development of snus pouches. Elderly snus-using men in that home wanted to continue using snus, and the nurses had to help them. This was often messy and saggy, and they asked Svenska Tobaks if they could come up with a better solution on using snus for the elderly.

Who actually invented portion-packed snus? The timeline

The idea of package snus in small disposable packaging is not new. Here is the timeline of what I have discovered.

  • In 1927, the first patent application was filed by K W Nyberg who was granted a patent for his invention the same year. He called his invention “snus tablet” and consisted of snuff packaged in a casing of disinfected gauze. The patent expired without the snus tablet coming out on the market.
  • In 1965, in an article in the newspaper Expressen published in November 1965, Kurt Börjesson claims that he had invented the portion-packed snuff. He had put snus in a tea bag, according to the newspaper article. He had also applied for a patent for his invention, but no such patent exists.
  • In October 1967, Svenska Dagbladet had on the first page a report on the Swedish Tobaksbolagets laboratories in Stockholm. The article was about Curt Enzell and his snus portions. You can read the full article below.
  • In 1969, portion-packed snus, manufactured in the Tobaksbolaget’s factory in Gothenburg, was distributed to a few old-age homes in Gothenburg. The result of this test was encouraging, according to Stig Lindström at the Gothenburg factory.
  • In 1971, the Tobaksbolaget’s technicians had solved the problem of industrial manufacture of portioned snus. The first machine for the production of Smokeless was ordered in May 1971.
  • In 1972, the craftsman Jan Olof Johansson from Östra Ljungby applied for a patent on a way to package snus. The right to any patents has been transferred to Tobaksbolaget.

The inventor of the snus pouches

Professor Curt Enzell is not mentioned in the podcast, but he is the man behind the snus portion bags as we know them today. Curt got a job as head of research at Svenska Tobaks AB, current Swedish Match, and started a research lab there in the mid-60s. Professor Enzell was at the time coming from a job at Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan in Stockholm (KTH Royal Institute of Technology).

Curt got the brilliant idea for snus pouches in 1967 when he used snus to overcome his pipe-smoking cessation. Curt was at the time an inveterate heavy pipe smoker. But he didn’t like loose snus, he thought it was too messy to put snus in his mouth. Instead, he started to experiment with wrapping loose snus in the paper from tea-bags. The fact that coffee and tea were provided for free to the employers by Svenska Tobaks AB maybe made it a bit easier.

Snus in a tea-bag

Snus in a tea-bag

Over the years Professor Enzell has published more than 700 scientific papers and holds several patents. One of the patents is for the Curzell cigarette filter for reducing the harm of smoking.

In 1988 Professor Enzell won the Coresta award in Guangzu in China. This is considered to be the “Nobel Price” in the tobacco industry.

The main factor for Professor Enzell switching to snus was to save, or at least prolong, his own life. And a bonus is that many smokers around the world can experience the same benefit from quitting smoking with the help of snus. This is something he is proud of as he looks back on his over 90 years long life.

According to WHO 7 million deaths per year can be attributed to smoking and tobacco-related health issues, this costing $2000 billion. It is estimated that 12 000 deaths in Sweden is related to smoking costing SEK 30.5 billion. This according to the National Board of Health and cancer foundations.

In Sweden smoking has gone down from 45% smokers in the 60s down to only 5% of the population smoking today. Much of this can be attributed to smokers using snus to quit the bad habit of smoking. And as more snus brands and more manufacturers arrive on the market, it has helped increase the popularity of snus.

In 2018 Professor Enzell nominated Bengt Wiberg, the inventor of Sting Free Snus, for the Michael Russel Award at the Global Forum on Nicotine, GFN. Professor Enzell being a mentor for Bengt Wiberg on the development of his patent approved Sting Free Snus. He believes that this invention can further help smokers, who find the burning sensation of snus unpleasant and make an easier switch from smoking to snus.

Snus in a “tea-bag” during the experiment

From an article in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet October 7, 1967, we can read:

“Professor Enzell started an experiment on himself two weeks ago. The aim was to investigate the role of nicotine in his smoking habits since nobody else was willing to volunteer. He was an inveterate pipe-smoker, but put the pipes away and started with snus instead. He discovered that the nicotine dose in the snus was enough to cover about 60% of his smoking needs. The rest, we have to assume, was attending to the dear pipes themselves. The experiment can have consequences also for other snus users in the kingdom. The professor didn’t like the stickiness of snus put directly into the mouth. So he wrapped the loose snus in a little packet of tea-bag paper. Now he is trying to promote his idea of portion packed snus in some sort of tea-bag edition to the marketing department of Tobaksbolaget (current Swedish Match). The persons using snus will find out if he succeeded.”

The “tea-bag” article from October 1967

The “tea-bag” article from October 1967

And as you probably know when you read this, he succeeded with his invention. But maybe not as much financially as being a pioneer in the tobacco harm reduction movement. According to professor Enzell, he was rewarded SEK 3 500 (ca $340) for his snus pouch invention.

Professor Curt Enzell is still a very active man.

Professor Curt Enzell is still a very active man.

The first portioned snus released in 1973

In 1973 the World Trade Center was inaugurated. Olof Palme was the Prime Minister of Sweden, and six years had passed since Professor Enzells first tea-bag snus-experiment at Svenska Tobaks AB.

And this year Smokeless, the first snus portions, was released on the market. This was the first portion snus and a pioneer on the market. Smokeless had a taste of Whiskey. We had to wait until 1990 before whiskey flavor would reappear in snus, this time in Probe. But for this first release, the reception was lukewarm and no immediate success.

Each of the small Smokeless snus pouches was packaged in a little plastic bag. The product failed and the brand was withdrawn from the market. However, surveys showed that many had been positive to the new way of using snus. But they were not particularly impressed with the plastic bags themselves.

Tre Ankare and Catch mini beside regular snus cans. The first snus portions came like candy in a plastic bag. Picture from the Snus book by Bengt Sändh

Tre Ankare and Catch mini beside regular snus cans. The first snus portions came like candy in a plastic bag. Picture from the Snus book by Bengt Sändh


Here you can read my review of the Snus book by Bengt Sändh.

The introduction attracted much attention in media. All the newspapers wrote about the new product, and many TV-programs reported on the introduction of Smokeless.

Portions got a second chance

In snuspodden, Alf Wendel at Swedish Match remembers that the managers were prepared to give the snus portion-bags a second chance. Loose snus was just not fashionable anymore and something only old men used. They used what they had learned from the first release and developed the concept further. And as a result of this, Tre Ankare was released in 1977. This was the breakthrough they have been waiting for at SM. It could be said that Tre Ankare is the ancestor of all snus portions on the market today. Many Swedish snus users remember, and still use, Tre Ankare.

In newspaper adverts from 1977, we can read: “People around you will surely think you show significantly more consideration than a smoker. More and more people have a standpoint against smoking and tobacco smoke. The tobacco is in one small portion bag that permeates the good flavor but stops the snus from going away on its own. Tre Ankare has a rich flavor character”

Today, Tre Ankare is only available as a White Portion, but it has been available in mini-portions as well over the years. But the taste today is similar to that found in the first batch. It’s snus rich in flavor with a strong, smokey tobacco character. A note is that Tre Ankare has never been released as a loose snus variant. But many loose variants are available in portions.

We have to apologize

Slowly but surely, the snus-market was expanding in Sweden, and it’s expanding so much that Swedish Match has difficulties to keep up with market demand. In 1979, they ran an advert that said: “We apologize for the fact that some of our products may be difficult to find”. The success of snus portions was a fact.

Since then the market has exploded

Since the slow staggering start in 1973, the market for snus pouches has exploded. In the Swedish snus market today, almost 9 out of 10 snus-cans is snus portion bags. Many smokers have since the release of snus portions been able to quit the habit of smoking with the help of snus.

The market today

It is Lars Öbergs opinion that snus today is a much more pleasant product than what it was. You find more tobacco flavor and more smokey flavors, and more flavor overall. The product is of a higher quality today, he says in snuspodden.

But Lars Öberg doesn’t think that loose snus is going away anytime soon. Although most new snus variants are only released as portion bags, the market for the classics will remain. Ljunglöfs Ettan has been on the market since 1822 and is one of the most loved brands. General is another brand with a long and unbroken tradition since 1850.

Snus portions are a relatively new product

Snus portions are a relatively new product compared to loose snus. But product development is constantly underway to find new materials, new sizes, new bags optimized to spread the flavor. No product is so perfect that it can’t be developed further.

What do customer ask for

According to the Swedish Match Store in Stockholm, the customers ask for snus with higher nicotine content. You will also find different sizes and more flavors to choose from now than previously. Another thing you find today is the expensive limited editions, only available in small batches to cater to the snus connoisseur. You can also create a personal mix of flavored snus at the SM-stores today.

But the loose snus buyer often prefers a more clean tobacco flavor without much added extra flavor. The portions, on the other hand, are often more flavored than the loose variants.


The market in the future

According to snuspodden more brands with distinctive taste will see the market in the future. Snus with a taste of different fruits and more of a food-like taste is likely to appear. You probably also will see more of different limited edition for the real snus nerds out there in the world.

The advantage of loose snus

After all the talk about snus portions, I have to promote loose snus. My snus of choice for almost 50 years now. The advantage of loose snus is that you don’t get a barrier between your gums and the snus. You get a much richer taste experience with loose snus.

You decide how much to take, how quick or slow you want the nicotine and flavor be released. If you want to bake it into a ball or just scoop in a “live” pinch like just like Algot in the radio clip. You decide, something you can’t do as easy, or at all, with snus portions. And if snus isn’t available where you live, you can always learn how to make snus at home. And If you wish, you can also make your snus portions with empty paper pouches.

My experience is that, with moderate use and if you avoid giant pinches of snus, your gums probably will stay as healthy as my gums. If you take large pinches of snus, the pressure from the lip will increase the pressure on your gums. For me, a normal 50 g (1.76 oz) can last for 2 days, and I don’t use snus when I sleep. Something common among the big consumers. I also take a break for a couple of hours during the daytime. The big consumers can consume up to 3 cans a day, something I couldn’t manage. If I get a sore “gator lip” on one side, I switch sides for a day or two to give the sore side a rest.

If the price is a concern

I bought a can of Tre Ankare at a local store when I was writing this post. It was many years since I bought snus portions and I have never tried Tre Ankare before, so I thought this was a good time to try. I must say I was surprised at the price, SEK 46 for the can, SEK 42 on the web. This for a can with the content of only 21.6 g (0.76 oz). That’s about the amount of loose snus I use in a day. So switching to portions would be expensive for me. Loose snus is also expensive to buy, about SEK 10 more than portions. But in a loose can you get 40 g (1.41 oz) of snus.

It must be expensive for the old Swedish soccer player Glenn Strömberg. He posted a clip on Twitter as a replay to the question of how many portions he put under his lip. The number is the same as the number he had on his shirt when he played soccer, seven!

“It probably is eight in a couple of years, but right now seven is perfect for me”.
Glenn Strömberg

https://twitter.com/i/status/996729889314279427

So there’s no wonder that more and more Swedes begin to make snus at home, especially if you are a big consumer. For the batch in my Prillan Norrland review from Sep 21, 2019, I paid SEK 370 for 1 kg (2.2 lb) tobacco and the base aroma, shipping included. Between the thumb and the forefinger, the accessory ingredients didn’t cost me more than ca. SEK 100. From a batch of this size, you get 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) snus when it’s ready.

So if we round up to SEK 500 for the batch, the price per gram is SEK 500 ∕ 2500 g = SEK 0.2 ∕ gram. For the Tre Ankare can the price is SEK 45 ∕ 21.6 g = SEK 2.13 ∕ gram. This is ten times more expensive than my home-made snus.

The exchange rate when I write this is, for $1 I have to pay SEK 10.46.


Röda Lacket Original since 1897

Röda Lacket Original since 1897

My Tre Ankare review

Well, what can I say? I started with one pouch, and waited, and waited, and waited for…and nothing. I gave up and changed it for a pinch if my home-made snus. After dinner a took two pouches and waited, and waited, and waited. When I after 20 minutes chewed on the two bags I got a notion of tobacco flavor. A crumpled up paper tissue has more flavor in my opinion. I didn’t try with seven, but I don’t think that would have made any difference.

So I can conclude that this was the first and only time I buy Tre Ankare white portions. Other portions I have tried were not white, and therefore had a little more flavor, but not as much as what you get from loose snus.

List of references

Snuspodden (the Snus podcast) By Swedish Match, Reporter Mattias Bergman
Swedish Match Snus History - YouTube
Snus inspiration - The man who invented the portion snus - YouTube
http://stingfreesnus.com

Pictures

  • Portioned snus License: Creative Commons
  • Snus License: GNU-FDL
  • Pictures of the article with Curt Enzell from Svenska Dagbladet 1967 - by Curt Enzell via Bengt Wiberg (Sting Free Snus).
  • Tobacco consumption diagram - Bengt Wiberg (Sting Free Snus)
  • Picture of Curt Enzell - Bengt Wiberg (Sting Free Snus)

Leave a comment

What do you prefer, portions or loose snus? Leave a comment and let me know.

Take it easy and snus on.

Anders

snus 
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