7 JULY 2007, Page 44

Snuff is enough

James Delingpole finds a solution to the anti-smoking law And this one's known as Badger's Armpit, for reasons which will become readily apparent. For the first-time user I'd recommend just the tiniest pinch, because it does tend to attack the mucal tissue, somewhat. See? No, you'll have trouble for the next few minutes but the vision does return eventually. Now tell me, while you're recovering, how does that one compare, say, to the Shrieking Owl, the Rancid Tart of Madeira, or Old Harry's Original No. 7?

Well that was the sort of intro I'd been planning to write once I'd been on my snuff-sampling expedition to Smith's Snuff Shop in Charing Cross Road. But the young man who ran the place wasn't having it. 'I'm sorry sir, it's illegal for us to offer samples of any form of tobacco product.' What? Since when? 'Oh. Two or three years ago, at least.'

The other flaw in my plan, I soon discover, is that snuffs don't have quite such exotic names. There's Jockey Club and the vaguely mysterious-sounding SP, but mostly the names are just plain descriptive ones like English Rose, Cinnamon, Sandalwood, Almond and Tia Maria.

So is snuff-taking going to catch on bigtime now that you can't smoke anywhere but your own home (which'll be the next thing they'll try to stop us doing, you mark my words)? I consulted top people's style expert Nicky Haslam, who tells me the jury's still out.

One option, I suppose, would be to give up altogether, but then you'd be playing this evil, liberty-loathing, lying (you do know that passive smoking is a total myth, don't you, dreamt up by health-fascists but comprehensively disproved by the only extensive long-term survey by Enstrom and Kabat) government's game and you obviously wouldn't want to do that.

Also worth trying, maybe, are these new things called Nico Pipes (www.nicopipe. com). They're jewel-coloured metal tubes into which you insert a nicotine cartridge, so you can carry on getting your partynerves-conquering nicotine hit while also having a comforting social accessory to wave around in your hand. Depends on whether or not Nicky Haslam buys into them, I would guess.

But this possible snuff revival might yet be the answer. There was a time, after all, when it was really big and there's no reason why it shouldn't become so again. George III's wife took so much of it she was known as 'Snuffy Charlotte'. Frederick the Great was a serious user, as was Napoleon who would snort seven pounds of the stuff in a month.

Like many trends it was popularised by Catherine de Medici who, on hearing of tobacco leaves' healing properties, had some ground down into a powder in an attempt to soothe the migraines of her son Francois. It worked. Gradually the habit spread through the European aristocracy and thence to the lower orders. By the mid-17th century it was sufficiently well established for Tsar Michael I of Russia to ban his subjects from taking it, on pain of having their noses cut off.

Though Charles II was a snuff enthusiast — he'd adopted the custom while in Parisian exile — the habit only properly caught on in England after the naval victory at Vigo in 1702. Among the bounty captured from the Spanish galleons were vast quantities of snuff, which were sold in London under the name 'Spanish'. This was then abbreviated to `SP' — and that's how it is still known today.

For inspirational purposes I have just taken a pinch of Jockey Club and my white handkerchief has now been befouled by brown-powder-flecked snot. This is the big problem with snuff as I remember from the last time I took it, as an affectation when I was at Oxford. My mother used to complain about how all my hankies had been ruined and it's true: if you're going to do it, you really need to carry old-fashioned spotted, coloured numbers, not white ones.

The other problem is the risk of nose cancer, first recognised by an English physician among heavy snuff-users in 1761. But this has not been confirmed by any recent studies and, according to www.snufftobacco. co.uk there has only ever been one reported case of cancer from snuff use in the UK — a Suffolk farmer who had been putting snuff in his ear for 40 years and developed ear cancer. So don't try that, obviously.