'I SUPPOSE sometime I might want to sit down and read all about Napoleon and his bladder problems - but it's hard to think quite when that would be,' says Nick Redding, a roll-up smoker for 20 years. He is flicking through The Virginian, a new magazine published by Imperial Tobacco, especially for smokers of Golden Virginia hand-rolling tobacco.

Around 15 per cent of smokers roll their own. The vast majority are male and this is reflected in the magazine's contents. Golden Virginia Man is a masculine, traditional type, who enjoys not only his baccy but also trips to the pub, sport and the occasional flutter.

There are articles on beer, Formula One racing and the man who makes the odds for William Hill, as well as a three-page profile of Napoleon ('Who was the real man behind the proud facade?'). Why Napoleon? It seems that he is just the sort of hero smokers need in this new Puritan age of clean living; he 'enjoyed taking snuff, chewing aniseed liquorice and drinking half a bottle of cheap, red wine every day'.

Features on the Big Breakfast television show and the benefits of eating insects supply a wacky element - though tobacco companies consistently deny targeting young people. There are also pages of games, competitions, free gifts and special offers - but the pounds 35,000 Spot The Ball contest requires each X on the entry to be accompanied by a Golden Virginia wrapper or pouch. A free penknife is available to those who send in tobacco wrappers or pouches. Evidence of purchase must be sent by readers wanting to take up special offers - and the Golden Virginia logo is everywhere.

Imperial Tobacco's foray into publishing is not purely to provide their customers with something to occupy them while they smoke. 'Whether we pursue this avenue and do other magazines for cigarettes depends on the political climate,' says a spokesman.

The magazine has been launched at a time when a ban on tobacco advertising may have a realistic chance of becoming law. Labour MP Kevin Barron's Private Members Bill to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship has been approved at its first reading by MPs from all parties. Even if the Bill falls, it may well lead to tougher voluntary agreements on tobacco advertising.

Using the Golden Virginia logo on competitions and offers neatly sidesteps the Advertising Standards Authority's code of practice banning associations of desirability with tobacco in adverts.

And a magazine such as The Virginian, which endorses and supports smoking, could play a major role in securing customer loyalty, according to Stephen Woodward of the anti-tobacco campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).

'I don't see it as being at the cutting edge of recruitment of smokers,' says Woodward, 'but if I could afford to publish a magazine like this, I would see it as a very powerful tool indeed. I would be interested to see whether they develop it as a powerful lobbying vehicle to put the case for tobacco companies to a specific audience.' This audience is very select indeed. The Virginian will only be available by direct mail - the first issue will be sent out to Golden Virginia smokers who have already entered company competitions or taken up special offers. A tantalising cover message - 'Only available to adult hand rollers' - warns them to keep it out of the way of the impressionable.

But smokers who read our advance copy feel the warning was unnecessary. 'No danger of any kids reading it in my house because it will go straight in the bin,' snorts Andy Dominic, a roll-up man since his teens. 'It's like all freebie magazines - poor quality, deathly dull, with frantic plugs for the product all over the place. It's got no relevance to smoking or anything else - a real mish-mash. This feature on edible insects - ridiculous]'

'It's a load of rubbish,' says Jeremy Turner, a roller for 10 years. 'Maybe I'm a special case, but I don't drink beer or gamble. This is aimed at your stereotyped, 50-year-old, balding, chubby singlet-wearer. The feature on Napoleon is bizarre - but you do get boring people, pub quiz types, who just like gathering information. Oh, a special offer of a domino set. Classy,' he adds disdainfully.

'I wouldn't mind winning pounds 35,000,' admits another long-time hand-roller. 'I suppose I might read some of the features in here. But I'd be more likely to tear bits off the cover to use as roaches.'

(Photograph omitted)