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Tuesday, May 22, 2007
You snus, you lose
For months I couldn't find the stuff anywhere, not that I was looking very hard. A few weeks ago, I ducked into Rich's Cigar Shop to ask a pipe-smoking cashier if they had any stock. He sneered and sent me on my way.
Where could I find snus, a new type of chewing tobacco currently being test-marketed in Portland by Camel? Better yet, why did I want to try it in the first place? Curiosity, mostly. I'm not a smoker and I can't stand chewing tobacco. Still, I'll try just about anything once if it'll provide me with blog fodder.
Snus, once enjoyed by folks across the Atlantic until it was banned by the European Union in the early '90s, is still a virtually unknown vice here in the states. I didn't even know of its existence until coming across a series of articles in the Oregonian back in January. Snus is odorless, smokeless, spitless, it doesn't stain your teeth and it won't give you bad breath (but it contains more nicotine than a cigarette and causes cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes). With cigarettes due to be banned entirely from Portland's public places any day now, snus could one day become the vice of local smokers still eager to get their nicotine fix. Snus, it's the hybrid car of tobacco products.
During a random stop at Tobacco Town on SW Barbur (I just needed to use the ATM, honest), there it was, behind the counter and a few feet away from the NASCAR hats and the confederate flag lighters.: a neon display case filled with snus cans. I threw down $4.40 for can filled with tiny "spicy" flavored packets. Also available: "mint" and "original."
I held off on cracking open the protective seal. I wanted to save the snus for an appropriate occassion, which presented itself a few hours later. I owed someone a favor and agreed to see Shrek 3 under the condition that I could get drunk first and pay for Spiderman 3 before sneaking in to watch the big, fat, unfunny ogre do his thing. After a "sushi pizza" at Mio Sushi on NW 23rd, a story for another time, we headed over to Ringler's Annex. As teenagers heading for prom strolled past, a market I'm sure Camel would love to tap, I downed several beers and a shot of tequila. Sometime before leaving, I slipped a packet of snus under my lower lip.
As the directions on the back of the can advised, I waited several minutes for the "tingle" to kick in. Rather than getting a mouth full of gross tobacco, a sweet cinnamon flavor engulfed my tongue. The snus packet tasted more like a stick of Big Red than chewing tobacco. The flavor lasted about 30 minutes, much longer than a stick of gum, and dished out a tobacco buzz stronger than any cigarette I've ever smoked.
I figured the booze and the snus would put me in the right frame of mind for 92 minutes of jokes with all the wit of a Mad Magazine parody and scenes featuring Snow White belting out Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." I was wrong. Halfway through the movie, I could take no more. The audience was howling at everything- the fart gags, the banal puns, the sight of a teenage King Arthur getting a wedgie. My head was pounding and my stomach was ready to stage a regurgo-lution I jumped out of my seat and fled for the bathroom.
While I'd like to blame my stomach ache entirely on what could be the worst movie I've ever seen in a theater, I'm sure the snus played a part. And the sushi pizza. And the beer. And that shot of tequila. I'm happy to report that I did not vomit.
Shrek, all his pals in the enchanted land of Far, Far Away, snus and booze: 0.
That can of snus will probably sit on my desk for several months under a pile of papers before it winds up in the trash. So is this the future? Will snus save Big Tobacco? As I pointed out months ago, I doubt it. The main reason why people start smoking is because they think it makes them look cool. You can't look cool sucking on a packet of snus. Still, there's likely to be at least a small market once smoking is evenutally banned in public places nationwide. All those jonseing smokers will have to get their fix somehow.