The aim of this study was to investigate perceptions on the use of smokeless tobacco in the Northern Province, South Africa. Ten focus groups were conducted in 1999 with two heterogeneous groups (5 with middle-aged and 5 with the aged). They were mainly Northern Sotho speaking. From 72 participants 16 women and 8 men admitted to using snuff. The most popular types of smokeless tobacco used were homemade snuff and only a few used "commercial" snuff. The basic ingredients for homemade snuff were tobacco and other plant leaves. Snuff was found to have important functions and to be socially acceptable in the groups studied mainly for ceremonial and medicinal use and to a lesser degree for relaxation and pleasure. Generally, positive and medicinal effects were noted for snuff use. Most participants agreed that it is addictive, but only a few acknowledged the negative effects in terms of causing cancer.