Why Don’t People Smoke Pipes Any More?!

One recently ‘converted’ US cigar smoker’s amusing view on the world of pipe smoking… With thanks to Cigars.com.

 

pipe&cigar

 

First off, I need to clearly state my love for pipe smoking. There, I said it. And in the past, I have exhaustively explained how this and cigar smoking have become tied as my number-one hobby. But one area I have never covered is why this hobby is on such a steady decline. I have read numerous articles stating that pipe smoking is going through a renaissance and, yet, while trolling around my dull life with pipe in mouth, I often feel like I am the only pipe smoker on earth. Even in certain tobacco shops that deal primarily with cigars, I am often approached with a surprised, “Hey, you’re a pipe smoker?” Of course, if you go to a genuine pipe shop or a pipe show, you can always find the survivors of this great hobby, and I have found other brothers of the briar in my travels. But, quite honestly, they are few and far between.

So, what happened to all my fellow pipe smokers? Hoping to get to the bottom of this mystery, I spent a grueling 10 minutes of research and followed that up with my own expert theories as to why pipe smoking has fallen from its once enormously popular stature.

Pipe smoking is an art that requires thought and dedication; the rituals of loading your pipe, then lighting and tamping to produce a wonderful smoke, take patience and practice. In time, as you become accustomed to your new briar friend, you develop your own rites of preparation and puffing to achieve full smoking enjoyment.

Okay, I confess: I tried to make that last paragraph sound enticing but I really think it’s all BS. Actually, after you get accustomed to a piece of briar sticking out of your mouth all day, it becomes quite simple and doesn’t really take much thought at all. Just grab a handful of your favorite tobacco, stuff it in your bowl, fire it up, and grab the TV remote or take a leisurely walk in the park with your pet Yorkie, Boo-Boo. And, of course, you will probably be the only one in the vicinity puffing on a pipe.

 

douglas macarthur

 

Years ago, dads smoked pipes, uncles smoked pipes, movie stars smoked pipes, even General Douglas MacArthur upon his return to the Philippines to reclaim the island for America, smoked a pipe (we’ve all seen the famous photograph of him schlepping through the water with a humongous corncob pipe sticking out of his mouth, right?). Yet, recently, I was at a red light and noticed the people in the next car staring at me like I had a fork sticking out of my head (oops, forget that part; I just remembered that, on that particular evening, I had attended a Halloween party dressed as a Greek salad and I did have a fork sticking out of my head). Anyway, you get the idea.

In the early part of the last century, pipe smoking was the norm — men actually considered their pipes to be part of their haberdashery. Tobacconists would fit the shape of the pipe to complement a gentleman’s face structure and choice of clothing. Many high-class clothing stores carried pipes, not only for smoking pleasure but also as a distinct fashion statement.

 

1940s pipe smoker

 

Pipe smoking experienced a real boom after the release of the 1964 surgeon general’s report, which asserted that pipe smokers actually lived longer than nonsmokers. I honestly think this is true just from general observation—you see a lot of old geezers with lit pipes sticking out of their mouths. Of course, medical professionals would vehemently deny my claim, but screw them; they are making our lives miserable enough! In many cities, you can’t even smoke in a park due to the threat of secondhand smoke, but I guess it’s okay to inhale bus fumes — apparently that poses no danger.

So, on that note, the lumping of all forms of smoking into the same category could be one of the reasons that pipe smoking is on the decline. But, at the same time, I see an awful lot of guys chomping away on their favorite stogies, and plenty of people still smoking cigarettes. So, obviously, I haven’t yet begun to reach a conclusion as to why pipe smoking seems to have become as common as tuba lessons.

During the 1980s, when people sought instant gratification, pipe smoking suffered a substantial decline. It became so much easier to take a quick ride to the convenience store to pick up a pack of Marlboros and a Slim Jim. Experts say this trend began slowly reversing itself during the Cigar Boom of the 1990s, when tobacco enthusiasts began rediscovering that the finer things in life are worth the time and effort. Everyone thought a ‘pipe-resurgence’ would be right behind, as pipe sales did increase. But they never fully reached the magnitude of cigar sales. At that time, cigar magazines with glossy covers featuring our favorite actors with oily, high-quality cigars in their kissers fueled the already popular trend. Though it might have worked in 1953, I don’t think a lustrous cover featuring the late Walter Cronkite puffing on a Savinelli would have the same effect today.

 

walter kronkite

 

During this incredible Boom, cigar clubs and smoking rooms sprang up all over the country, and cigar dinners became a big attraction. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for pipes. My guess is that, when a bunch of guys have big, fat cigars in their mouths, they will inevitably start talking about women and sports, whereas a group of pipe smokers might become engrossed in the topic of the economy in Zimbabwe or the declining quality of tweed elbow patches, which would make for what most would find a very boring evening.

From the 1930s right through to the 1950s, many young men started smoking pipes when they entered college. This was their way of saying, “Now I am an intellectual college lad.” Oh, how wonderful it must have been for these fraternity brats, clad in cardigan sweaters and bow ties, to stand around the piano with pipes in hand, gleefully singing their school’s theme song.

While pipe smoking was fairly common in 1965 among men age 20 or older, its prevalence seems to have declined drastically in my lifetime. The great Albert Einstein once remarked that pipe smoking “contributed to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.” Perhaps this generation just considers Einstein a crazy, long haired eccentric that was good at maths. In fact, I have never heard of any young person taking up pipe smoking so he could be like Einstein! At the risk of sounding like the quintessential grumpy old man, I assert that maybe they are more receptive to mindless TV reality shows. Maybe for the young folks this mindless media blitz is paired better with a cigarette of dubious substance and an energy drink rather than a fine Comoy Billiard and a bowl of Mac Baren Navy Flake.

 

einstein

 

So, if you happen to be less than 35 years old, I have an assignment for you: Google the great Albert Einstein and watch the History Channel for three straight weeks, then go out and buy yourself a pipe and some good tobacco. Most likely, you’ll lose all of your Facebook friends, but don’t worry! I guarantee that you’ll at least look as if your IQ has increased by 30 points. Not to mention, you may singlehandedly incite the resurgence of pipe smoking and tweed elbow patches!

Even after typing those words, it somehow still confounds me that my 21-year-old son and his friends have no desire whatsoever to smoke a pipe. In fact, they make fun of me and call me “Popeye.” Yet they are totally committed to the latest youthful fad to invade the western world, which has been a custom in the Middle East for centuries. I’m referring to the hookah. For some reason, I look funny with a pipe but it is perfectly okay for them to sit in the basement around a giant glass bowl with eight long mouthpieces used for inhaling something called “shisha.” And, it takes about 20 minutes to get the damn coal heated through a water tube (I’d go into more detail but I’m not a plumber) just to get a hit of watered-down pineapple smoke! Instead of going through all that malarkey, why not just smoke a banana!?

 

greta garbo

 

Another reason for the pipe’s decline may be its lack of appeal to women. While, in my line of work, it’s not at all rare to find women who enjoy a fine cigar, female pipe smokers remain uncommon, although history’s ranks of pipe fans are said to have included Queen Victoria, author Gertrude Stein and the actress Greta Garbo. I do find that, today, most women find pipe smoke less objectionable than cigar or cigarette smoke, and some actually like it. Maybe that’s because it brings back memories of Dad, Grandpa, or eccentric Uncle Saul. The problem lies in the fact that, back then, Mom and Grandma found it attractive, while women of today may view it simply as a fond family memory.  Maybe the knowledge that a pipe is no longer the “chick magnet” it once was has led to a serious decline.

I have another guess as to why pipe smokers’ numbers are dwindling (and this one might actually be intelligent and legit!). People are buying the wrong pipes and likely filling them with rubbish tobacco. Years ago, even the cheapo pipes and tobaccos were typically made better than those of today; now, one trip to any convenience store for a large bag of “insert any low quality tobacco brand here” and a heavily varnished $10 pipe will make your tongue swell up like an inflatable raft! I, of course, recommend a visit to a reputable tobacconist who will help you choose a cool-smoking, high-quality tobacco (I suggest a nice, thick-cut imported brand). As for the pipe itself, I recommend a low cost corncob or 10 minute briar style, just to see if this hobby is for you. Corncob pipes may look funny but they smoke cool right from the first puff, and the sweetness of the cob brings out the entire flavor of the tobacco.

 

blonde pipe

 

By now, my alarmist rantings probably have you thinking that pipes are practically extinct! This is not true at all. Sure, it’s not like it used to be back in the day, but there are still enough of us to go around, and pipe manufacturers are still producing some exquisite works of art. Even though we are diminishing in numbers, we maintain the hope that the industry will someday come back in full bloom (this optimist mentality is the same reason that I have yet to dump my patch-pocket, bell-bottom trousers into the local charity box). And, quite frankly, I don’t care if I am the last man on earth smoking a pipe—I love it and always will! But just in case you need some encouragement, I have compiled a list of 10 perfectly good reasons that I smoke a pipe:

10.  It keeps me from chewing on my pen.

9.    It is relatively inexpensive compared to other forms of smoking.

8.    The variety of tobacco blends and flavors are endless. Endless!

7.    It makes me feel calm and relaxed.

6.    I can just stick it in my mouth whenever I get the urge for a chocolate bar.

5.    It makes me look smart even when I can’t remember where I left my glasses.

4.    Taking a few extra puffs during an argument gives me time to think before I say something stupid.

3.    I usually don’t get asked to put it out.

2.    It keeps my dog from licking me in the face.

1.    I already have a wife so I no longer need to try and appeal to the fairer sex!

So that’s my story. As usual, I have accomplished absolutely nothing aside from telling you that there are fewer pipe smokers today than in years gone by. I can safely say that this story will not win any awards for investigative journalism, but all this writing has just given me a craving to fire up my trustworthy bowl with some McClelland Virginia No. 1 and contemplate all of the other useless facts spinning around in my head…

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24 Responses to Why Don’t People Smoke Pipes Any More?!

  1. avatar Charles Ray Strozier says:

    Pipe smoking is the soul of freedom for a real man, this is where modern man can’t understand and accept. Thank God we still have a few good men left to enjoy the freedom of a great pipe.

  2. avatar Sean C says:

    I am 31 years old from Carlisle, England. I have been smoking a pipe for two years now and it is the best lifestyle decision I have made. It helps me relax, recollect and ‘push the re-set button’ in an otherwise hectic and relentless world.

    Everything nowadays has to be instant be it instant food, 24 hour takeaways, instant messaging etc. – my pipe removes me from this stressful world for a blissful forty minutes or so.

    I love nothing more than a mug of Yorkshire Tea and a bowl of Holland House in my Savinelli or HH Old Dark Fired in my Peterson Churchwarden just before bed.

    I am not interested in being fashionable or following a trend – me and my pipe simply work well together and I look forward to continuing my journey of enjoyment and discovery. Pipe smoking should be cherished, preserved and encouraged, there are far worse things in this oft times crazy, crazy world.

    Happy piping.

  3. avatar Stephen Marson says:

    Loved the sense of humor. Smoking a pipe is a hobby that’s a little bit involved. I first decided which pipe I want to smoke, the comes the challenge of choosing the right tobaaco. If you are like me you’ll have a butt load of tobaaco. In fact I probably have enough to last me 5 yrs. Once I selected the tobaaco then I carefully load my pipe making sure not to pack to tight or to loose. Then comes the char with the first light. Then I gently tamp it for the second lite. Then if I’ve done everything right I sit back relax and enjoy my pipe and contemplate how can solve the world’s problems. By the way I have the answer. Sometimes I get so relaxed I fall asleep. Living doesn’t get any better than that.

  4. avatar Jerry Hilborn says:

    I started smoking a pipe on/off since age 24. I am now 51 and am an occasional pipe smoker. I think the decline in Michigan is due to the lack of places to smoke. Cigar Bar/Lounge laws were written so that thou shalt have no other smoke than cigars. We are not welcome anywhere. One of the local casinos allows it. Long drive to sit indoors to smoke a pipe. I thought the hipsters would bring it back, but it hasn’t happened.

  5. avatar Klaudia says:

    Glad I came across this article, was so much fun to read! I’m quite new to smoking a pipe, but I absolutely love it. Oh, and I’m a 22 year old woman. :)

    • avatar Jenny says:

      We’re so pleased you enjoyed the article Klaudia. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need anything.

    • avatar George says:

      Very well done Klaudia and may I welcome you aboard to be among the brethren. The many different blends of tobacco that are available, I can guarantee you will have one hell of an adventure. I do hope that you enjoy as much as I have over many years. Keep well and God bless.

  6. avatar Anderson Perry says:

    Ten years ago after my grandfather passed when I was just 21, I was allowed his stash of briars as no one seemed to want them and I’ve been piping ever since. I love the variety of blends available and the peace that comes with taking time to yourself to enjoy a nice and smooth aromatic break in the day.

  7. avatar Rich says:

    My buddy and I used to smoke pipe when we were in high school, probably started when I was 16 or 17. I’ve tried every form of tobacco besides nasal. I do enjoy my chewing tobacco, but there is nothing as enjoyable and relaxing as smoking a pipe after a long day. I’m 26, and although I know it’s rare, there’s still young people out there enjoying a good pipe smoke

  8. avatar Ronald Hampson says:

    As a piper I worked in a factory that brought in a no smoking policy and two twenty minute breaks per shift . Just enough time for coffee and cake or tea and sandwich . Then the new house became non smoking etc

  9. avatar George says:

    Hello brethren,
    Such a great article and wonderfully put together. I am a piper of forty six years puffing and my pipes have been a constant companion.
    I had a good school friend and was invited to call at his house one day. His mother came to the door with a nose warmer between her teeth and a wonderful smell of Condor wafting behind her. I also noticed that she wore her top coat and boots around the house for most of the time. It just goes to show that even then, women could be just as eccentric as some of us, but what a wonderful world we live in. Well done my brothers, I find it a great pleasure to be in your company.
    Happy puffing and God bless.

  10. avatar James says:

    Hi
    I have been smoking a pipe since I was 19 years old at Oxford university, it was the normal trend in those days. I am 68 years old now and still fit and well. I enjoy a tot of a good malt whiskey each evening to accompany a good smoke beside my log fire, there is nothing better and my wife loves the smell of my tobacco, so all happy.

  11. avatar Neil Scarbro says:

    Hi,
    I’ve been smoking a pipe since 1973, most of that time I was in Germany with the British Army. Sitting under a cam-net smoking a pipe full of Condor time goes by very slowly – the down side was our boss kept running out of tobacco and as I smoked a pipe he got my spare. But you can’t beat a pipe no matter what they say.

  12. avatar Mark Rollason says:

    I just recently started smoking a pipe because I have Multiple Sclerosis and rolling a cigarette was becoming a game called “How much tobacco can I get everywhere?”, “How many cigarette papers can I use for just one roll-up?”, “How soon before I burn the house down?” Actually I am following a “family tradition” – both my Dad and his Dad were pipe smokers (and church organists). As I am not allowed to drink I thought “Why not?” I certainly agree that pipe smoking is more socially acceptable than any other form of smoking. Now where is my pipe? Mark.

    • avatar Marcus says:

      Hi Mark – I’m pleased you’re enjoying your new passion and are proudly continuing pipe smoking through the generations! Enjoy…

  13. avatar Jason says:

    I am a recent convert from Cigars to pipe mainly due to cost and I although I get plenty of negative comments I also get rather a lot of positive ones. Lots of “that so reminds me of my grandfather” and “I love the smell of your pipe” I have fond that the older I get the less I worry about what other people think of me, so I puff away regardless.

    • avatar Marcus says:

      Pleased to hear it Jason! You may also be pleased to know that we’ve introduced some premium cigars over the last couple of months, some of which are very reasonably priced!

  14. avatar Dan Barlow says:

    Most enjoyable article I have read for some time on the subject! I bought my first pipe when I was just 20 and living in France where tobacconists still grace the centre of even small towns. I sought the advice of the tobacconist, but, on this first occasion, too embarrassed to admit that this was my own first forray into pipe smoking, I pretended I was buying it as a present for a friend. I am sure the tobacconist saw staight through me, but he played along. I also bought 50g of awful French tobacco and hurtied home. Twenty minuted later, the strength of the baccy had completely knocked me out and I spent the afternoon in bed feeling rather nauseous. Still, I persevered and found some slightly milder tobacco more suited to a young Brit lacking the benefit of the experience of 50 years of smoking Gitanes. 14 years on, I am glad I didn’t give in. Now I enjoy my daily dose of Carey’s Balkan Special or Soft Black Aromatic enormously. Keep puffing, my dear eccentric brethren. There are damn few of us, but surely that’s part of the pleasure!
    BTW (that’s as cool as I get!), I don’t give a hang about losing Facebook friends – http://www.eacarey.co.uk IS my Facebook!

  15. avatar Rich says:

    I’ve taken up pipe smoking and I’m 32! I haven’t had any compliments but I have been smoking it in my local beer garden so am hoping it might catch on :)

    • avatar Marcus says:

      Give it time Rich, give it time! Before you know it the beer garden will be full of fellow puffers…

  16. avatar dan blackard says:

    well done sir well done.

  17. avatar Tom Greene says:

    Very good article.
    I, too, have many women who have complemented me on my pipe smoking.
    I even had a couple of women to stop by my table at the outdoor commons area of the resort where my wife and I were staying to say how wonderful my pipe smoke smelled and how it brought back fond memories. And they even thanked me.

  18. avatar Steven H says:

    Terrific! A great, great read. I can identify with lots of things here! This gentleman has hit all the right buttons and, my goodness, doesn’t he know how to defend this great pastime?! Well done, sir. A wonderful boost for the system and, more importantly, for the pipe business in general. Here’s to the pipe and its future!
    Steven

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