James Anderson snorts the night away without fear of breaking the law
"THIS STUFF is great! You get a real hit from it!" No, not a snatch of jive talk from Miami Vice, nor a tawdry transaction in the darkened corner of a night-club, but simply the enthusiastic sales patter of an employee in the Selfridges tobacco booth. And Kenneth "Drug Tsar" Hellawell needn't get his Y-fronts in a twist - the product being proffered is good, old-fashioned, law-abiding snuff.

Old-fashioned, that is, until recently. Now the quaint art of shoving powdered tobacco up one's hooter is enjoying a renaissance amongst those with a nose for all things habit-forming. Its obvious bonuses include avoiding the wrath of the ever-vigilant anti-puffing brigade, and no longer ponging like an ashtray.

And financially, it's a boon to the social butterfly on a budget: cheaper than fags (a small tin retails for approximately pounds 1.20), and enabling the user, should they so wish, to feel trendily at one with the cocaine avalanche so prevalent in the capital's salubrious niteries (while smugly avoiding a later date with Betty Ford). On the downside, the glitterati will not appreciate having snuff-induced globules of dark phlegm sneezed all over their glad rags.

But has this habit, traditionally associated with old men (and when used in the Russia of yore, deemed illicit enough to warrant the chopping off of noses) really come to be seen as socially acceptable to today's youngsters? Indeed it has, reckons Dominic Bell, manger of the famous Inderwicks tobacco store on Carnaby Street (who even stock more adventurous mentholated and strawberry "flavours" alongside standard snuff).

"Snuff's not dying out at all," he confirms. "We have customers who buy 80 tins a month. A lot of our younger ones know exactly what they want - the flavoured types are always popular with them." One such regular is 24 -year-old actor Darren Quilty: "I switched from ciggies to snuff about six months ago, mainly because it didn't seem as bad for you as smoking. Everyone took the piss at first, but now a lot of my mates have started taking it - we're like a little snuff gang whenever we go out. People do look at you suspiciously ... but I think it looks quite cool."

Dismayed by this news is Clive Bates, director of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health): "Snuff is less dangerous than smoking - which causes lung- related diseases," he agrees cautiously. "Although it can cause nasal and oral cancer. Oh dear, don't tell me this is the latest pop-culture development... Perhaps we should change our name to Action on Snorting and Health!"