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