Mud Jug Luxury Spittoons Are the Kick-Ass Symbol of Freedom America Needs
If you think smokeless tobacco is gross, or America is bad, or are a warning label, you can kiss Darcy Compton of Mud Jugs's ass.
Last month, the New York Times Editorial Board ran a piece titled "The Perils of Smokeless Tobacco." The roughly 600-word piece was meant to highlight the dangers of teen vaping, reminding readers of the potentially harmful effects of smokeless tobacco in light of the recent uptick in teenagers abandoning traditional cigarettes for vapes. The article also noted that Swedish Match, the leading manufacturer of the smokeless tobacco product snus, had "applied to the F.D.A. to replace the warning label on its product that says it is 'not a safe alternative to cigarettes' with a new label claiming that 'this product presents substantially lower risks to health than cigarettes.'" The Editorial Board was staunchly opposed to the change, stressing, "F.D.A. should not approve any change in labeling without much stronger evidence to support the company's assertion," citing snus's potential to cause pancreatic cancer, affect pregnancies, and lead to heart attacks, not to mention the possibility that snus users, once hooked on nicotine, might turn to cigarettes to get their fix.
Libertarian-leaning Reason.com took issue with the Times's position, citing a study that notes rates of cancers associated with cigarettes have seen significant decline in Sweden, the country in which snus is most commonly consumed. Mocking the paper's position that snus warning labels shouldn't be changed to concede that the product is indeed safer than cigarettes, the Reason article argued "the paper's position is that the government should censor truthful, potentially lifesaving information because it's not sure what people will do with it."
A more succinct version of this spat can be found from Darcy Compton, co-founder and face of the portable smokeless tobacco spittoon company Mud Jug, who said in one of his vlogs: "Warning labels, kiss my ass."
The clip, titled "WARNING LABELS, KISS MY A$," is nearly 12 minutes long, and it's the sort of engrossing, fascinating piece of media that, if you were to show it to an alien as a representative sample of humanity, would cause them to think that we were all totally insane. "We got some good shit to talk about today," he says, following an intro that features Compton making fun of Obama, shooting guns, and stuffing massive amounts of chewing tobacco in his mouth, all backed by a soundtrack of aggressive metal. The "good shit" he alludes to includes the announcing of a new Mud Jug product (high-quality reusable tops for dip cans), his opinions on various NASCAR drivers (Kyle Busch, he says, is "fuckin' ugly" and should be "kicked in the balls and called a woman"), and saluting various soldiers serving overseas. In his videos, he comes across as the smokeless tobacco industry's answer to Kenny Powers: lewd, completely politically incorrect, decidedly right-wing, and all the more endearing for it.
Compton is not the type of guy who trusts the media. I know this, and not just because he literally says it in this video. When I approached him about an interview, he first asked if he had to pay me for Mud Jug to receive coverage on VICE. After I told him we don't accept payment for coverage, he agreed to speak with me on the phone the following day.
For those not in the know, Mud Jugs are colorful pots painstakingly designed to be spit into while consuming various smokeless tobaccos—chewing tobacco, dip, etc. Compton started the company in 2004 along with a friend, Jeff Welch, following the realization that consumers kept spilling or drinking from tobacco juice receptacles, commonly referred to as spitters. "The old bottle, cup, or can thing was kind of getting old," Compton told me over the phone. "Most people, even if they're not dippers, know someone that's either drank from or spilled a spitter."
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And so, with a flourish of expectoratory zeal, the Mud Jug was born. Today, the company offers two models of reusable spitters—the "classic," made to resemble the upturned bell shape of an old school spittoon, as well as the "roadie," with a cylindrical shape meant to fit in the cupholder of a vehicle. Additionally, they offer accessories such as window decals, reusable dip can lids, and, quizzically, rubber "Dipstrong" bracelets which resemble yellow LiveStrong bracelets.
Compton, who claims to personally run through a can of dip per day, credits his company's growth largely to popularity on social media and YouTube, where the company maintains a robust and occasionally mortally terrifying presence. The company rarely advertises, Compton told me, explaining that the cost-to-benefit ratio just wasn't worth it. "We've tried advertising in several magazines. We've sponsored several NASCAR races and the rate and return on investment on that type of stuff is just pathetic. We don't do any of that anymore because it hasn't proven to be effective." Instead, social media is the domain of Mud Jug. "To a certain extent, we're granted a whole entire dipping community," he said. "Social media is free."
The Mud Jug YouTube channel consists mostly of vlogs featuring Compton himself. Its greatest hits includes the aforementioned "WARNING LABELS, KISS MY A$," the anti-Obama rant "AMERICA!.. LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT," and "CONFEDERATE FLAG - SOUTHERN PRIDE HISTORY&SPITTOON," which features Darcy (who according to Mud Jug's "About" page, is from Alberta, Canada) explaining why Mud Jug features products with Confederate imagery.
The company's social media is handled by a guy named Chris, whose handle across YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram is chrisdips1. A non-zero amount of his job, he told me, involves making "dip memes." Dip memes? Dip memes. "Current dippers," he said, "all have very similar things that we experience. Like, people who think dipping will cause your jaw to fall off, I'll make a meme based on that. Or when somebody spills a dip can—the feeling one experiences of heartache or whatnot."
It's arguable that at this point, Mud Jug's internet presence is something of a self-sustaining machine. Their biggest marketing push came when the Athens, Georgia redneck rap crew Jawga Boyz released a song entitled "MUDJUG (Dip in My Lip)" in 2011. "We didn't pay them anything for it," Compton said. The track, built around an Atlanta snap track and anchored by gnawing electric guitars, currently has over 4 million views on YouTube.
Compton is something of a dip evangelical and abhors cigarettes. "Imagine standing over a campfire 25 times a day, inhaling the smoke. Cigarettes are worse than that, because there's more than 3,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke when you burn it." Dip, he claimed, "is way better for you than smoking cigarettes. I've been on a mission to help educate people about the facts on smokeless tobacco," continuing, "That helps sales of course, but I'm a dipper and I know thousands of dippers, and I don't want people worrying about the health effects we've been brainwashed to believe." Though the Center for Disease control warns that smokeless tobacco can lead to cancer of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas, Darcy claims, "You're no more likely to get cancer as a dipper than you are as a non-dipper."
All of this leads to the question: Who's out there actually buying portable spittoons? "Everybody says, 'Oh you must get a lot of people from the South.' Well actually, no," Compton told me. Instead, he claimed the majority of online Mud Jug sales come from the state of Texas, with Ohio and Pennsylvania trading the second and third spots. Surprisingly, also in the top ten are California, where Mud Jug is based, and New York. Smokeless tobacco has a strong presence in the military as well, where physical fitness, as well as the risk of a trail of smoke giving away a soldier's position in the field, are at a premium. "We do our best to support the troops," he told me. Indeed, the company offers a 25 percent discount for active military personnel.
All of the histrionic vlogging, dip memes, and anti-smoking rhetoric seems to be paying off. Mud Jug sales, Compton said, doubled from 2013 to 2014. "This year," he said, "our goal is to do about 25% increase from last year." Meanwhile, the hashtag #mudjug has nearly 80,000 posts on Instagram, with #mudjugarmy enjoying nearly 17,000. The company continually rolls out new designs for its products and retires others, making Mud Jugs something of a collector's item. And if smokeless tobacco keeps trending upwards, that means more tobacco juice, more Mud Jugs, and more people who Darcy Compton can tell to kiss his ass.
Drew Millard is on Twitter.