In defense of the pipe

There is something that has puzzled me for a long time.

Where have all the pipe smokers gone?

I know there are a few Puritans who would smugly claim that they have all been killed by their nasty foul addiction but that is plainly a pile of ordure.  I remember a time when on Budget Day the price of cigarettes would be increased but not the price of pipe tobacco or cigars because they were considered "a healthy alternative".  I remember a day when politicians such as Harold Wilson or Jack Lynch would never be seen without a pipe.

The other day I was enjoying a nice pipeful and a large coffee down in the village.  I got chatting to my old pal who runs the village grocery store.  As I puffed my pipe and he puffed his cigarette we naturally got onto the subject of smoking, and I mentioned my little puzzle.  It struck me that if anyone knew how many pipe smokers there were in the vicinity, he would.

He thought for a while and did a bit of mental inventory.

I don't know what the population would be in his shop's catchment area.  Including the village and all the outlying areas where people have to travel through the village to get home, I reckon there are about three thousand.  Going by statistics around eight hundred of those would smoke.  And the number of those who smoke a pipe?  Including myself … four.  Only four people in a very large area of the county?  Only 0.5% of smokers?  I found that quite amazing.

It has reached the stage where, if I meet a pipe smoker while out and about we are such a rarity that we get chatting.  The same question always arises – where have all the pipe smokers gone?

One thing I have discovered over the years is that the pipe is admired by just about everyone, smoker and non-smoker alike.  I have lost count of the people who admire the aroma, and the number of people who have said it evokes memories of their father or grandfather.  It ranks up there with the smell of an Autumn bonfire or turf smoke.  Many have said even the mere sight of a pipe-smoker is relaxing.

I used to smoke cigarettes [well over forty years ago] and I found them to be messy.  There was always ash everywhere and butts to be disposed of.  They were a quick fix and tasted of saltpeter.  The pipe on the other hand keeps its ash neatly in the bowl and there are no fag-ends.  Ash can be discreetly disposed of at the end of a smoke, and that's it.  I grant that a pipe is a little more trouble in that it has to be cleaned regularly and it's an extra item to carry around – instead of fags and a lighter, I have to carry a pipe, tobacco and a lighter, but that is a miniscule drawback compared to the rich flavour and aroma.

Even the Puritans ignore us.  Their questionnaires and statistics always quote the "number of cigarettes per day" and never ever mention quantities of tobacco.  They wiffle on with their 4000 [or is it 6000?  I’ve lost count] carcinogens in cigarettes but they never analyse pipe tobacco which I'm damn sure contains far less.  Any real doctor [as distinct from those who just trot out the party line] I have ever spoken to has always told me that the pipe is far preferable to cigarettes so why is this never publicised?

Because of the Anti-Smoker movement [Big Pharma, to you and me] a lot of people considered their position on cigarettes.  Many have switched to electrofag, some went cold turkey and the more brainless even tried Big Pharma's own useless patches and gum.  But no one ever suggested they try a pipe.  Why?

Has anyone got any answers?

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In defense of the pipe — 18 Comments

  1. I have liked the aroma of plug tobacco coming from a pipe. I always imagine pipe smoker as pensive people. In fiction the deductive Sherlock Holmes ponders the vital clues while puffing away.

    • It is no accident that pipe smokers are portrayed as contemplative.  I see the pipe as being relaxing whereas cigarettes are somehow nervous. 

  2. Many, many years ago my old dad, as a young man who smoked fags, went to his doc for a check up. Doc found healed TB scars on his lung (his mum died from TB). The doc suggested he give up the gaspers and take up a pipe. Much safer he said. Which he did. Smoking didn't see him off either, but stomach cancer did. He was 84.

    • Welcome, Doctor!  I don't know how many times in the past that I heard that a pipe was safer than cigarettes.  Pipes somehow seem to have vanished as a method of enjoying tobacco, which is something I just don't understand.  Nobody ever suggests the pipe as an alternative these days.  A mystery….

  3. my uncle also carried a small penknife as he used a solid plug of tobacco.

    he also wore a waistcoat, carried a pocket watch, and never left the house without a hat.

    his likes seem to be long gone may he rest in peace.

  4. I think that what happened was that back in 1950, when the smoking health scare started, it was only relatively new-fangled cigarettes that were regarded as dangerous, not pipes or cigars. People had been smoking the latter for centuries without ill-effect. And when I went to see my GP, he (or she) would say that the real danger was cigarette-smoking. And manufactured-cigarettes, rather than the roll-ups I smoke. But sometime around 1980, the goal-posts got moved, and tobacco-smoking became the danger rather than just cigarette-smoking. So pipe-smoking is now discouraged as much as cigarette-smoking. Now, of course, just putting anything that <i>looks</i> like a cigarette or pipe in your mouth (e.g. e-cigs) is discouraged as well.

    It's all baloney, of course. Antismoking has been all baloney from the start. It's essentially a moral crusade, and always has been. All the targets of modern healthist crusades are things that have been morally condemned since time immemorial. Smoking. Drinking. Eating. It's just that these days the moralisers hide behind science and medicine. 

    As for pipe-smoking v. cigarette-smoking, I prefer the latter. I bought a pipe a few years ago, but hardly ever use it. The problem wasn't that I didn't enjoy smoking it. In fact I thought it was rather nicer than my usual roll-ups. The problem was that it kept one hand (and arm) more or less fully occupied. I can hold a cigarette between my lips, but I need my teeth as well to hold a cigarette. And I can park a cigarette on an ashtray, but not my pipe. And I can type with a cigarette between my fingers (like I am right now), but not a pipe. I think there are devices on which you can park pipes, but I haven't got one. So if I put it down anywhere, it rolled over and spilt ash everywhere.

    I came to the conclusion that pipe-smoking was a full-time job. You had to concentrate. And it was the devil to keep them alight. Pipe-smoking was for leisured people who were happy to devote themselves to their pipes. Cigarette-smoking is for busy people (like the soldiers in the trenches in WW1 or WW2) looking for a quick hit. And we're all busy these days, of course. Except for retired grandads…

    • The pipe does take slightly more effort, I grant.  It has a tendency to go out frequently so I reckon I spend more on lighters than I do on tobacco.  But then that is also an advantage – it goes out, I leave it for a while and then just light up again so I get several smokes out of one bowlful. 

      I never had any problems keeping the old thing clenched in the teeth!  As I said, I have smoked a pipe for the last forty and more years and at one stage in my career I was involved in some pretty laborious work that required both hands.  That never stopped me though.  Even now, I'm typing this with both hands, and the pipe is going strong. 

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