Eastman, On Tobacco Also

The following review of “hard snuff” was published in The Dartmouth Review in 2007, after a tobacco company shipped five boxes of it to the Review office. I wrote the review and have since sworn off dip, but I still like the article.

Like a lot of American children, I grew up putting things, usually pennies and dirt, in my mouth. When I was a boy I thought as a boy, as the saying goes, but now that I am a man I have put away boyish things, and I’ve grown to prefer dried tobacco leaves ground up with fiberglass and soaked in nicotine, packed in dull blue and black tins and sold by the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Corporation, to pennies and dirt.

The consistency and vigor with which I enjoy smokeless tobacco caught the local student rag’s attention last term and earned me some ink in an article about students’ dipping habits. Harder to justify the ways of God to man, Milton writes, than explain to a young female reporter the verdant valleys of prolonged oral tobacco use. But I tried, and the kind of big fish/small pond notoriety common here at any time was mine for about five minutes. I entertained a lot of suggestions alternative to dipping in those five minutes, from assorted cigarettes and cigars to more exotic rigs, and was always disappointed.

The most recent disappointment came in the form of “dissolvable tobacco pieces” sold by Star Scientific; the back of the box promises “100% Virginia StarCured™ tobacco” but left it up to me to figure out how Virginia tobacco leaves turned into little off-white cough drops. But, as they say in Amsterdam’s red light district, I’ll bite.

Dipping is like hanging out with an old friend. You can do just about anything together: watch a ball game, go for a drive, see a movie, chase women, go to work, pick classes, take in a show… it’s a friend that you don’t have to talk to; you know he’s there and he’s always great company, and you know that no matter what happens he’s got your back. No matter the occasion, an enjoyable lip is like a good dog sitting next to you on the porch: he doesn’t say much or move too often, but it’s good to know he’s there.

Dissolvable tobacco pieces, or “hard snuff,” offer no such companionship. Physically, they’re little brown pills that taste like bitter cough drops and dissolve like a mint in the mouth. There’s nicotine in them to be sure, and maybe even tobacco, but no friendship. If dip’s an old friend, this is the small boy down the street who wants to tag along; the Tom Sawyer to Skoal’s Huck Finn. They’re annoying and provide very little good company. Hard snuff pieces also provide no spit with which to fill a water bottle for desktop display; people who might enjoy that are probably the same ones who don’t stuff the animals they shoot. Who wants to come home without a trophy?

Though they offer no satisfaction in the way of oral tobacco use, hard snuff also offers very little risk in the way of jaw and tooth loss, which may be a plus for those trying to kick their respective habits. But as a man once told me, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen… because the kitchen is where people go to dip while they prepare food, so that they can better imagine all the dipping they’re going to enjoy after dinner.” The only thing hard snuff pieces provide is a desire to put more into the mouth, chew them all up, roll the pieces into a lump, and put that lump in between the gums and lower lip. Which I tried, for about three minutes, before spitting the whole thing into an empty Dasani bottle which I quickly filled up with rich, honest-to-God, friendly dip spit.

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