A Moderately Casual Smoker

Why I Started

I started smoking a pipe about a year ago, a little more, after thinking about for just a little while. Like most ideas that pop in my head, once it got in there, I thought about it often. Had I rode it out, and not started, there is a good chance that I never would have. In some ways, I have long been anti-tobacco, though mainly just anti-cigarettes and against people smoking massive amounts.

I saw a joke about smoking a pipe and being a philosohpy major in an online comic. I made a joke about just going ahead and taking that as personal image. This is sort of the genesis. I had a friend who smoked a pipe. Oddly enough, with this exception, I had only the faintest acquaintance with pipe smoking. There was shop teacher back in Junior High that smoked a pipe, and that was about it. I am saying there is no peer pressure.

I became more fascinated with it upon reading more. The idea that different pipes and their different materials and shapes could change the taste, not to mention the hundreds of different blends of tobacco; intrigued me, as I was the child that always loved variety. Also, a lot of physics and philosophers of note (my rolemodels in other words) were known to smoke a pipe. The very image of the pipe smoker caught my eye. There was also a notion of cost. Pipe smoking is extremely cheap if you want it to be that way. A corncob pipe and a pounch of Captain Black (along with tools and cleaners) will cost you about 10 dollars. This is a couple weeks supply, and the pipe and tool will keep on going.

But getting into a hobby just because it does not cost much is a dumb thing. If that was the case, I would be the king of macaroni art and of string games. No, I was simply curious because it seemed like I would enjoy it, and I did.

Not Just the Nicotine

I would like to take a brief aside to point out that the average non-smoker will think of smoking anything as terms of an addiction. This is not true. There are a couple reasons, though I am going to stick with those specific to pipe smoking.

First off, pipe smoking as a ritual built into it. You have to tamp down the tobacco. You have to light it over a couple of tries to build up a good burn. You have to clean your pipe. Shopping for new tobacco can take some time. Shopping for a new pipe can take even longer. You often find a good place to sit, or a nice view to stand and look at. This is not a 5 minute break, but more like an hour on both ends (unless you half-bowl it or speed smoke).

Pipe smoke tastes good to smokers, and even non-smokers. It can be "fun" to find new flavors. I have actually been complimented on the smell of pipe smoke when other people are around. I still like to only smoke around others in wide open spots, I think it would be unfair to force others to deal with it. But those that do smell it tend to like it.

And there is also a definite visual appeal to it as well. Pipe smokers envoke a certain old school charm that appeals to them and to others. It appeals to me.

Do I Plan to Keep It Up?

To quote the Colbert Report's one time Word of the Day: "Absolutely Maybe".

I enjoy it. I enjoy the atmosphere of it (meaning the people who work at pipe shops, shopping online, looking up reviews and discussions and all the like). I enjoy the collection aspect. It goes well with my personality.

But who knows? When I get a kid, if I am not in a position to smoke a pipe where they are not affected by it, then I probably will drop it until I can be. If there is any definite decline in my health, I plan to drop it. If I just get tired of it, I will drop it.

For now, though, it is quite a neat thing to do.

Some interesting misconceptions

Isn't Pipe Smoking Real Expensive?

It can be. Pipe smoking is one of those hobbies in which there is almost no upper limit to what you can spend. Upper end pipes are easily in the thousands of dollars. Vintage tobaccos can costs hundreds per ounce. Even the pipe tools can reach a couple of hundred for a mere tamp. With this being said, the average midline pipe is between $100-$200 dollars, with the more practical workpipes ranging from $5 corncobs to $20 briars. Each of these can smoke a couple types of tobacco before you get a weird miasma mixture. Tobacco itself costs anywhere from $1.50 (skip it) to $5.00 an ounce, with most good quality tobacco being round-a-bout $3.00 and ounce. An ounce of tobacco is a little over a week's worth of smoking a bowl a day (actually, a little more, but that's a good estimate since bowl sizes differ). Meaning that you can smoke six ounces over about two months with a corncob pipe for about $25 dollars.

Isn't Pipe Smoking Really Cheap?

A flip-side to the previous question. Yes and no. If you are a cigarette smoker who smokes two packs a day (about $6 dollars or more) then you will likely save money going the cheap route on pipes if all you are looking for is a nicotine fix. If you are a very casual pipe smoker looking for a couple bowls a week just to relax on the weekend and only need a midline pipe one good, steady tobacco; then you will not spend all that much. If you get into experimentation on flavors, want a collection of pipes and pipe tools, build a shelf to keep it all, get into pipe care; it might cost a bit. It is all about how serious you take it. In my experience, though, that is one of those hobbies where you will get more and more into it unless you are just doing it for the utility (which I, and most of the pipe smokers I know, are not).

Isn't it really safe?

No. It is safer than cigarettes but then beer is safer than hardliquor. You must always be careful with this sort of thing. Read the addendum below to see more of what I mean.

Isn't Pipe Smoking a Big Hassle?

Yeah, kind of. But that's why it's fun. It takes time and concentration to do it right. It has all these little options like how big of a bowl do you want and how open of a draw and what flavor and what length of time do you want to smoke. It has different style tools to do the same basic thing. It requires shopping around, research and talking. Like I said, its this sort of thing that makes it all fun.

Isn't Pipe Tobacco Real Harsh?

Yes, but then you are not supposed to breathe it in. This is not meant to be inhaled. It is meant to be held in the mouth. If you are a smoker who tries to inhale, you need to work on cutting that out. I would imagine it is much more destructive than cigarette smoke in the long run, plus its generally flavored to be a mouth-only thing.

Do I Think It Is Safe?

I have no illusions that this is a perfectly safe hobby. I do not think of it as being some miracle replacement for cigarettes. I have looked up information, though. Lung cancer is essentially absent (relatively safe amounts of second hand smoke is all you get). Tooth loss is about half that of cigarettes, and is not much higher than the standard (something like 120%). Mouth cancer is a danger, but this applies moreso to those who smoke frequently, hold smoke in their mouth for long times, and smoke "hot" (I tend to smoke kind of cool tobaccos, those that burn at lower temperatures).

It is still addicting. I do not think it is as bad, though. I have been smoking for over a year, give or take, and can still go a week or two without even wanting to. On average, I smoke 3-5 times per week (about 30-45 minutes each time). I imagine if you were to aim for 2-3 bowls per day, it would be worse.

It also has the "smoke stain" thing going, both smell-wise and look wise. The latter is almost nonexistent, but the former is present. The good thing about it is that most people vastly prefer the smell of pipe smoke to cigar or cigarette smoke.

The last potential problem is whether or not it is a gateway use. A lot of addicted cigar smokers will turn over to cigarettes in order to save money and time. I do not know if pipe smokers are the same way, but I am guessing not. As discussed in my article above, there are a few things about it that set it apart than just simple nicotine addiction.

This article was written and posted by W. Doug Bolden on May 1, 2006. This article was revised on May 10, 2006.

For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".

"The hidden is greater than the seen."