Us vs. Them

20th January, 2009: Posted by glpease in Tobacco, Pipes, Enjoyment, Cigars

From what I’ve read on various pipe smokers’ fora, there is some crossover between cigarettes and pipes or cigars and pipes, however, “We,” as pipe smokers, seem to be more than a bit jingoistic about the way we choose to enjoy tobacco. Pipe smoking is seen as superior by many, both smokers and non-smokers alike. I suspect this has much to do with the historical image of the pipeman as thoughtful, educated, considerate. We’re not all Albert Einstein or Fred MacMurray, but there is a strong iconographic link, forged over decades, that still persists to some extent today, even despite the popular influence of the rabid anti-tobacco movement.

The pipe draws wisdom from the lips of the philosopher, and shuts up the mouth of the foolish: it generates a style of conversation, contemplative, thoughtful, benevolent, and unaffected.

—Wm. Makepeace Thackeray

Personally, though I thoroughly enjoy both pipes and cigars, I have never really been a cigarette smoker. Sure, I’ve had more than a few of the little things over the years in moments of weakness or curiosity, and some have been exquisite. I fondly recall the Balkan Sobranies in their little tin boxes, and the French Boyards, with their black tobacco and yellow corn-paper, sweet and powerful in flavour and in effect, not to mention the Old Holborn RYO tobacco that was splendid. I’m sorry to say these have gone the way of all flesh, even though I would only rarely indulge in their guilty pleasures.

Really, the only reason I’ve never adopted the custom of the cigarette is largely because I’ve simply never been one to embrace the notion of the quick and disposable smoke. I’ve always loved the pipe for its beauty, its steadfast companionship, and the attendant ritual that is a vital part of the pipe’s deeper pleasures. It provides so much more than just a smoke. The cigar, too, has its rites, and provides a good hour’s worth of enjoyment. Cigarettes simply are not my choice.

Still, I cannot help but find it a little disturbing that so many pipe smokers are vehement in their contempt towards cigarettes and those who smoke them. More disturbing, still, an informal poll of California pipe smokers during the early days of the Tobacco Wars here, showed a startling support for anti-smoking legislations, simply because they do not like cigarettes.

It’s interesting how smokers have become so factionalized. ‘Twasn’t that long ago when cigarette smokers, cigar smokers and pipe smokers coexisted in relative harmony. Today, things could scarcely be more different. I wonder how much of this vociferous dissent within the ranks of tobacco users results from the pressures of the antis on one side, and the pipe smoker’s desire, on the other,, to be held out as separate, lest we suffer a similar fate of vilification as has befallen the cursed and wretched cigarette smoker. Newsflash: We really ain’t so different anymore in the mind of the public-at-large, no matter how much we’d like to think we are. We smoke, ergo, in their minds, we’re killers.

But, the truth is that without “Them,” the cigarette companies, “We” would have a difficult time existing. The pipe tobacco industry today is indirectly, but very closely tied to the cigarette industry. If not for Big Tobacco, our selection of leaf would be minimal, at best, and the price of what we could get would be astronomical. We, as pipe smokers, enjoy a quite inexpensive luxury by virtue of the economy of scale that the cigarette industry creates.

Further, we have access to a wider variety of leaf due to the number of growers willing to work the land to produce the tonnage that Big Tobacco requires. The sum total of the pipe tobacco production in the world amounts to about what the cigarette industry sweeps off the floor after the lines are shut down. I’m not exaggerating; collectively, we consume in a year what they produce in a few hours.[1]

So, as much as many of us don’t care for cigarettes, they are really essential to our hobby,  and it’s a damned good thing that Big Tobacco hasn’t been shuttered by the relentless pressures from the antis, or we’d either be smoking pencil shavings and flavoured lawn clippings, or paying a inordinately high price for our pipeweed of choice.

With the dark, shadowy spectre of SCHIP looming ominously on the horizon, we need to be thinking about these things, and remembering the implications of any further tobacco legislation when we’re in the polling booths.


1. World tobacco production is presently ca. 6 million tonnes and increasing, expected to reach 7.1 million tonnes by 2010, as compared to ca. 4.5 million pounds in 2007, and shrinking, for pipe tobacco production.