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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thoughts on the Gentle Art of Pipe Smoking

It's been well over a month--goodness, how time flies--since I resumed smoking a pipe after a years-long hiatus. To my very great surprise, my opinions are being met with rather more gravity than I expected. Not that I object; I'm happy to share what I know. But at the outset of this interminably long post, on which I've been working for several weeks, let me state up front: what I'm sharing here is the fruit of my experiences, which should by no means be taken as exhaustive. By all means, if you're contemplating taking up the pipe, or are new to it, regard what I have to say here merely as a point of embarkation! Also, I acknowledge that it is a long post. In blogospheric terms, it is a long train wreck. You may not want to read all of it, but before you leave, I suggest that you at least scroll through and look at the section headings so that you don't miss anything you might be interested in, okay?

Two Things I Have Long Believed about People and Tobacco
1) Some people--a lot of people, really--are way past reasoning with on this subject. Kind of like a couple of friends we once went out to eat with, fellow Baptists. Now, at the time, I was abiding by that church's covenant, which stated (in retrospect, I would say, "totally inappropriately") that no member would drink alcoholic beverages.

 At dinner, I ordered an O'Doul's, which, if you didn't know, is a non-alcoholic beer. If you want to be picky, you can say that it contains .5 (point-five, if you're having trouble seeing the decimal point) percent alcohol, but, hey, in the real world--that's non- alcoholic. I seriously doubt that you could get tipsy, let alone drunk, on the stuff. Just not physically possible, you know?

 But I got a look. So I said, figuring they might not know, "It's non-alcoholic!" And I still got a look. I am pretty sure that if my water glass had been waved in front of a beer keg, they'd have been wondering about my water.

 And so it is with tobacco. Yes, of course, we know of lives--plenty of them--that've been wrecked with tobacco. Shoot, I deal with them every day--part of the job of someone in the medical equipment industry. 

And yet I can't help but think that some people go completely overboard when it comes to their disdain for the stuff. These people act as though if you have a cigar every Sunday after church and Sunday dinner, you'll be stricken with cancer, COPD, and stinky breath by Monday morning. And God forbid they should catch a whiff of smoke whilst outdoors. You'd think they'd ingested plutonium.

 I recall talking to a church member, an older lady, about the subject shortly after I had given up my pipes and tobacco. I mentioned that I could always look forward to smoking a pipe in Heaven. She said, "There won't be any smoking in Heaven!" More puzzled than I should have been, I asked, "Why not? After all, there's no way it could possibly hurt you." She didn't have an answer, of course. Just gave me that look that says, "You're totally insane." No answer. No reason. No thinking about it all. Just a look.

 To my mind, that little episode is illustrative. So many non-smokers act totally deranged when the subject is tobacco. They don't smoke; they don't see how anybody could possibly like to smoke. And they are totally, completely, impervious to reason on the subject.

 2) People have a consistent habit of straining at gnats and swallowing camels. People will act as though you're about to cough up a lung and die on the spot when they find out you have a few pipefuls a week, as I've already mentioned. That this is delusional will never occur to them, as they've been "educated" on the subject by the government, which, by the way, also taught them that the way to avoid heart disease is to eat stuff that any idiot knows is what you feed to cattle to fatten them up.

 But most amazingly to me, the same people will routinely take risks that I, at least, consider insane. You tell me that you can go through most of your life fifty, sixty, seventy, a hundred pounds overweight, rarely (if ever) getting any exercise, eating garbage, and not run a very substantial risk of negative health consequences. You won't tell me that? But that is what people routinely do in this country.

 And the same people doing that will act as though I'm one running the health risk--me, the guy that's 10 pounds too heavy (admittedly--we're doing full disclosure here), but runs six to nine miles a week, does calisthenics three days a week, and does karate, eats very little in the way of crap, but--horrors!--has taken up a few pipefuls a week! Shoot, I don't mean to pick on them, they were (and presumably still are) nice people, but the church people I mentioned earlier are perfect examples. Big as a house, both of 'em. I'm dead certain that last time I saw her, the lady was at least double her natural weight, and the man was probably 40 percent overweight, and maybe more. They showed not the slightest concern for the health consequences of their diet and exercise habits or their obesity, but, if the subject of smoking came up, could make it clear that they thought I was taking unnecessary risks.

 Is that concern with my health? Or is it a thinly-veiled attempt at moral one-upmanship, or a vain attempt to reassure themselves about their own health habits?

 When you find that people act as though a little water vapor threatens their health, you know that you have left the realm of the rational and entered the world of the zealot. I heard Rush Limbaugh talk once about how he'd been in a restaurant with some friends, and pulled out an electronic cigarette. Now, if you don't know, these things basically put out a smoke-flavored water vapor. It is quite odorless, quite harmless, and only the user perceives the taste. But they look like a cigarette, especially from a distance, and sure enough, soon the manager came 'round to Limbaugh's table, asking him politely to put out his cigarette, as other guests were complaining about his "smoking." Limbaugh protested that he wasn't smoking, showed him the e-cig, how it worked, how the tip lit up when you drew on it, and the manager was satisfied: Limbaugh wasn't smoking. But that wasn't enough for the complainers. Eventually, the manager came 'round again and asked Limbaugh to please put it away, that just the sight of Limbaugh doing something that looked like smoking was bothering them.

 People like that will read this post and conclude--wait, I correct myself: they will likely not read all of this post, though they will feel perfectly free to criticize the contents--that it is nothing more than a long attempt to convince myself that an inexcusably bad habit--or even sin--is perfectly okay. Well, they can think that if they want to. It is still a relatively free country, at least at the time I'm writing. I am under no illusions that I am going to change the thinking of such people. But for those who remain, I'll just tell you that my purposes in writing are to give an account to those who knew me when I gave up tobacco and to offer some-- hopefully!--useful thoughts on spirituality and the art of pipe smoking. I don't really want to have to come back to the subject in any detail again--I have other fishies to fry--and so I determined at the outset that I would put pretty much all I had to say on the subject in this one post, and to refer people back to it, if ever they wanted to know what I think. It has taken me weeks of gathered bits and pieces of time. I am not going to try to instruct people on the art of pipe smoking. I did think about it a little when I set out to write, but there are perfectly good books on the subject, excellent websites, and, since I started writing, I have found a seemingly endless number of videos on YouTube on the subject. Anyone who wants to know the details of how to smoke a pipe will have no trouble finding them. Instead, I have focused on my personal experience of the subject, throwing in enough information to make sense of some of my thoughts and comments. I hope you find the reading worthwhile.

How I Came to Start Pipe Smoking, Quit, and Start Again
I recently took up pipe smoking, or, as Tolkien consistently styled it, the art of smoking, again. I am really not sure how long it was between the time I left the art and my return, but I think it may have been about 11 years. Why quit, and why start again? Well, that is a story, one that I am certain most people will find dreadfully boring. But as, in the course of telling it, I am going to touch on Christianity, salvation, works, eating meat, drinking wine, idols, prayer, and some practical observations on the art, there might be a few folks, googling 'round the web, who might stumble upon this and find it helpful. It is for those people I write.

 I started smoking a pipe when I was 14 or 15, with my parents' full knowledge. Both cigarette smokers at the time, I suppose they were just grateful I wasn't smoking cigarettes or dope behind their backs. I had read most of the Sherlockian corpus by that time, and Holmes made pipe smoking sound de rigeur for the would-be intellectual. About the same time, I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and you know how much they celebrate pipe smoking. I had also met a few pipe smokers--including one gent in his mid-70s (as I recall) who was still working and still tough as an old hob-nail boot. And I knew--well, my grandmother had told me more than once--that my great-grandmother had smoked a pipe all her life, living to quite an advanced age (I am wanting to say that my grandmother told me 102). My grandmother joked once that she would probably have lived to 110, had it not been for her insistence on smoking that pipe!

 The school where I went at the time had a copy of some government publication or other, one of the Surgeon General's reports or updates. I remember looking at mortality rates and some things stuck firmly in my mind, things I remember reading to this day, 35-36 years later. One was that there actually was a level of cigarette smoking at which there was no discernible difference in mortality between cigarette smokers and non-smokers. It was two cigarettes a day. For cigars, it was 3 or fewer cigars a day. For pipes, it was five or fewer pipes a day. And interestingly, it appeared that in a huge swath of the country, roughly between the Mississippi and the Rockies, pipe smokers who smoked five or fewer pipefuls a day actually had lower mortality than non-smokers.

 I was not then as aware as I now am of how misleading oversimplified statistics can be, but it was obvious to me that things weren't as simple as "tobacco causes cancer, therefore you shouldn't use it." Couldn't be, on the face of it. Apparently, quantity and method were important. And I knew that I didn't want to smoke even five pipefuls a day. I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to do that. I still can't. Depending on the size of the pipe bowl, the kind of tobacco, and the individuality of the smoker, a pipe can take anywhere from about 45-90 minutes to finish. Why on earth would anyone want to smoke five or six hours a day, every day? 

I am sure you would like to know which of the Surgeon General's reports or updates I am referring to. I wish I knew. They are all available online, in PDF form, and I have, since starting this post, perused some of them, but apparently not the one I remember. I have looked at several, found the same information, more or less, in individual mortality tables scattered hither and yon throughout those reports and am satisfied that my memory isn't playing me false. For instance, one table showed very clearly that for smokers of five or fewer pipefuls a day, mortality was .73--point-seven-three, that is--whereas non-smokers were 1.0.

 I'm sure you remember the Surgeon General playing that statistic up in the media. Right? At any rate, aggravatingly, I have not been able to easily reproduce any of those tables. They were in PDF form, and as despite having cable internet, I don't have very much internet time at home, I had to look at them at work. I couldn't get the wretched things to print to save my life, and I was most unwilling to sit there and try to painstakingly reproduce several tables for the sake of this post. I will, however, summarize: despite the scare-mongering, in report after report, you find that basically, moderate pipe smokers simply do not run risks worth worrying about.

 Read that statement carefully. I most emphatically did not say that there were no risks to moderate pipe smoking. I said that there were not risks worth worrying about. If you're having a hard time dealing with that concept, rest assured that I shall return to it in another section of this post and flesh it out in more detail.

 But back to my history... I soon settled into a pattern of smoking 2 or 3 pipefuls a week during the cool weather and hardly any at all during warm weather. I followed that pattern for years and I defy anyone, even now, to tell me with a straight face that there is any meaningful level of risk associated with that sort of usage. Over the years, I tried the occasional cigar, and I generally liked them, but not enough to switch to them, and, occasionally, cigarettes, which, with the exception of some Turkish cigarettes, I disliked, as I was unwilling to inhale (you did know that most pipe and cigar sokers don't inhale, right?) and the things were otherwise pretty much devoid of flavor. I also acquired, by my mid-thirties, thirteen or fourteen pipes of various sorts. Curiously (I will explain this shortly), not one of those pipes, even the one or two I'd owned for 10 years or more, was ever properly broken in! I had three or four books on the subject and thought I knew what I was talking about--and in some ways, I suppose I did.

 This went on pretty much without incident or change for years. Warm weather would arrive and I would pretty much forget about the pipe, and I'd end up letting my tobacco dry out. The autumn chill would arrive, I'd buy some fresh tobacco, and resume smoking two or three times a week. I tried a number of different blends, of course. Starting with "Killarney," which is what Ted's Pipe Shop usually sells to people new to pipe smoking, and Lane Limited's 1Q, which was sold at "House of Tobacco" under the name "Wildcat" and in Stillwater as "Cowboy Supreme." Most of what I tried was what my local tobacconist carried in bulk. I gradually gravitated toward the English styles, which have little or nothing in the way of added flavorings, like cherry, whisky, wine, etc.

 And then, after probably 22 or so years of this pattern, I got online. I quickly discovered UseNet and a pipe smoker's newsgroup. I was fascinated. For one thing, as you might imagine, people that have pipe smoking in common might have other interests in common, and I quickly found like-minded souls. For another, I quickly found, via the forum and E-Bay, access to information about things that had previously been unknown to me. Some of the people in the forum, like Greg Pease, made their living in the business. And everyone had an opinion and gave you things to wonder about. Did oil-cured briar really smoke better than air-cured briar? What about the salt treatment? What about Dunhill vs. Peterson vs. Savinelli--vs. a corn-cob? Was Paul Bonacquisti making the best pipes on the planet? Or Trevor Talbert? I spent more and more time online with that group. I debated everything and learned a lot. I bought different blends online, blends that my local shops didn't have (or had at outrageous prices). I bought used pipes on E-Bay, and a new one from Mr. Bonacquisti. I got to where I was smoking a bowl-and-a-half a day (1/2 a bowl on my lunch break and a bowl at night), which, as anyone familiar with the subject knows, is still not smoking very much at all.

 I got much better at packing a pipe and began to understand what a difference a well- broken-in pipe makes. I began to zero in on the sorts of tobaccos I really liked-- virginia flakes with or without a little perique, especially Escudo, blends with ample quantities of Turkish tobaccos, like Cairo and Star of the East. I knew which pipes I kind of liked and which ones I really liked (if you want to know: the aforementioned Bonacquisti, and three Petersons--a bent bulldog, a Rhodesian, and a "System" pipe). My smokes weren't getting any more frequent, but they were getting better and more satisfying.

 I was going through what I have since come to recognize as a pattern of behavior I go through. I get interested in a subject, devour enormous amounts of material on it, think, experiment, and eventually satisfy myself that I know what I need to know, at which point the subject assumes its proper space in my life. Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes not. I got interested in wine, for example, in the spring of 2011, but knew that I would never be likely to afford expensive wine, would likely never learn to appreciate, therefore, the subtleties said to lurk therein, and so was satisfied with the knowledge obtained from four or five books on the subject, enough to inform me about what I was likely to be able to afford and drink.

 As regards pipes and tobacco, had I but known myself better, I would have recognized that I was nearing the end of my intensive information-gathering phase and about to enter the proper-space-in-my-life phase. But I didn't, and right about then, I got saved.

 Now, I thought I had been saved when I was fourteen or so (ironically, about the same time I initially took up the pipe), when I read one of Hal Lindsey's books, was convinced of the Bible's veracity, and prayed the "sinner's prayer" he had printed in there. And over the years, I'd read a number of Christian books. From the time my oldest son was about two, I'd been active in church. I'd read the Bible twice. But there were signs that not all was well. I rarely prayed. I routinely indulged in sins and glossed over them by saying a quick prayer, but never made any real effort to stop. While I'd read the Bible, I'd pretty much had to horsewhip myself through it. By the time a thoroughly Arminian revivalist, very adept at emotional manipulation, came through, I was ripe for the picking despite what I later found to be his errors. By the third day of preaching, I realized that while I had an intellectual understanding of sin and the Gospel, I'd never really been broken over my sin. I didn't see it in its loathsome fullness, didn't hate it the way I should. I didn't really have any desire to stop. I basically wanted the intellectual satisfaction of being right, of being on the winning team, and to escape Hell (not that wanting to escape Hell is a bad thing). I was ready to beg Jesus to save me, and I did. And because a point the revivalist had emphasized was not to hold anything back from the lordship of Christ, I told Him that I didn't want to hold anything back. And I asked Him to give me power, power to live the Christian life.

 I was scheduled to be baptized the following night.

 The next day, even though I had prayed to receive Christ the day before, I was oppressed with a feeling that I needed to give up my pipes. Now (though I'm sure many have already quit reading this post through boredom), in my opinion, it is critical to understand my state of mind. I had made up my mind not to hold anything back the night before, and even though I knew from my reading--remember, I'd read the Bible twice--that there is nothing sinful per se about smoking, if Jesus asked me to give it up, I was going to do it. And as I continued to be oppressed with that feeling, I told a co-worker that I felt myself in the position of the rich young ruler, and that I was being asked to demonstrate my salvation--NOT EARN IT, but SHOW IT--and that if I didn't, it would demonstrate that I hadn't really meant my prayer! And then my mind would shift the other way and I'd think that if I did get rid of my pipes, it would mean that I was trusting in the good work of getting rid of the pipes rather than in Christ.

 Anyone who's read John Bunyan's Grace Abounding will recognize what I was going through immediately. 

Why, I wondered, would God be asking me to give up the pipe, when I knew that smoking wasn't a sin? At length, I decided that my interest in the pipe had risen to the level of idolatry. And it was absolutely true that over the preceding eighteen months or so I'd spent too much time and money on the subject and that I'd sometimes been inconsiderate of others. Had I been able to take counsel with someone who would ask penetrating questions...
How do you know that you're hearing from God? 
Ummmm--I've got this really strong feeling...
And where in the Bible does it say that you should take really strong feelings to be instructions from God?
Ummmm...nowhere...
...the whole thing would have been exploded, put in proper perspective, immediately. But no one was asking questions like that. For the most part, to this day, very few Christians with whom I am personally acquainted do. It's like, as a group, we've lost the capability.

 At any rate, when I got to church that night, I threw all my pipes and tobaccos in the dumpster, including one that I regret to this day, a Peterson bent bulldog that had been a gift from my parents.

 I did not seriously consider taking up the pipe again for years--not until very recently, as a matter of fact. This was in spite of the fact that I still was not convinced that smoking per se was sinful or evil or even really unhealthful in moderation, and in spite of doubts that came into my mind as to whether I'd really been hearing from God or whether the feeling I'd had was the result of my overwrought emotional state, of my wanting to be able to demonstrate to myself that I wanted to obey God. It was in spite of the fact that eventually, my new habits of Bible study--you see, I did experience some changes in behavior, one of which was that I no longer had to horsewhip myself into Bible reading, and I prayed all the time (still do), eventually made me fully aware that Scripture is sufficient, that everything the Christian needs to know for life and Godliness is contained therein, and that it is very foolish indeed to make decisions based on, say, "having a peace about something."

  Or on an oppressed feeling? I didn't allow myself to get to that point for a while.

 I think there were multiple things going on in my head. One was that I didn't want to admit to myself that I'd made an emotional mistake. I have, after all, like Holmes, long preferred to think of myself as an emotionally unbiased engine of pure ratiocination (however unrealistic an assessment this might be). One was that I cited my willingness to throw away the pipes as evidence of the desire to obey God wrought by His salvation-- sometimes, when I'd failed spectacularly in one way or another, it became the primary evidence to me and I didn't want to give it up, even though it made no logical sense whatever, and even though I was fully aware that if I'd asked someone else if he saw the fruits of salvation in his life and if he'd given the same answers I would give, I wouldn't have doubted his trust in Christ, just (maybe) his maturity. And lastly, there was a bit of fear that if I took up the pipe again, I'd go right back to where I was, spending way too much time and money on the subject, that I wouldn't have self-control (Right now, some of you are thinking, "This post is proof that you were right! Look!" Listen, I have cobbled this post together with bits and pieces of time over a period of weeks, okay? It's intended to say pretty much all I have to say on the subject, to be something to which I can point curious people for years to come.).

 Every so often, I would almost kick myself, I felt so stupid. I asked, and kept asking, God to give me a sign if ever it were okay for me to smoke pipes again, even though I knew that Scripture is sufficient.

 And then one night, not too long ago, I had a dream, an incredibly vivid dream, wherein I and a bunch of my friends (Who? I don't know. I just know they were, in my dream world, friends) were sitting around a living room, smoking pipes and talking theology. I woke up and tweeted about it. Soon after that, I had an online conversation about the subject with a friend who was taking up the art. And soon after that, I spent some time really thinking through the subject. And eventually, some things became clear to me.

  My oppressed feeling was not a message from God. God has given us His word, and it is sufficient.  

My oppressed feeling was the result of me desperately wanting to see some tangible manifestation of my new faith right away, and telling myself that I needed to throw away the pipes, and doing it, was the quickest (and ironically, the easiest) way to see one. 

 My interest in the pipe wasn't idolatry, it was a strong interest--and one that had peaked, at that. 

Thinking of the Great Pipe Throw-Away as evidence of salvation had a tendency to blind me to other evidences of salvation. 

 Worrying about the subject made me less conscious of other, more important things I needed to change. 

Frequent mental back-and-forth on the subject over the years had consumed more mental energy than I had previously considered. 

 I wasn't at all likely to go back to being "obsessed" and inconsiderate. I knew now exactly what I liked and what I wanted and what I wanted to do, and didn't need a large collection of pipes and tobaccos and books and hours spent online. I just needed a few pipes and a couple of blends that I liked. 

 Lastly, it suddenly dawned on me, after 11 years or so (from this, you can see that I'm nowhere nearly as brilliant as some of my acquaintances seem to think), that if I'd asked God for a sign that it WASN'T okay to take up the pipe again, I would have received exactly the same answer! Scripture is sufficient.

 When I went to a tobacconist and picked up a little Navy Flake and a corncob pipe (they're cheap, but they actually smoke decently), I swore I could almost feel the tension break. I have felt better and better--like I've released the tension from a spring, less like I was repressing something I knew to be true--ever since, and my spiritual, dietary, and exercise habits have not changed at all, save in a couple of small instances where they have actually changed for the better.

Pipe Smoking and Health
I know; you would think, after the preceding section, that I would next deal with the subject of Christianity and pipe smoking, but that will be the next section. I choose to deal with the health aspect of the whole business before the theological end of the affair because in my experience, people often decide that smoking is morally wrong because they believe it to be injurious to health. In terms of moral decision-making, to my mind, that is a little bit backwards, but that is how it often is! So, let's get started with a couple of quotes involving cholesterol and diet. If you don't immediately see the connection between those and smoking, please be patient and read thoroughly; all will be made clear.
The other disconcerting aspect of these studies is that they suggested (with the notable exception of three Chicago studies reported by Jeremiah Stamler and colleagues) low cholesterol levels were associated with a higher risk of cancer. This link had originally been seen in Seymour Dayton's VA Hospital trial in Los Angeles, and Dayton and others had suggested that polyunsaturated fats used to lower cholesterol might be the culprits. This was confirmed in 1972 by Swiss Red Cross researchers. In 1974, the principal investigators of six ongoing population studies--including Keys, Stamler, William Kannel of Framingham, and the British epidemiologist Geoffrey Rose--reported in The Lancet that the men who had developed colon cancer in their populations had "surprisingly" low levels of cholesterol, rather than the higher levels that they had initially expected. In 1978, a team of British, Hungarian, and Czech researchers reported similar findings from a sixteen-thousand-man clinical trial of a cholesterol-lowering drug. By 1980, this link between cancer and low cholesterol was appearing in study after study. The most consistent association was between colon cancer and low cholesterol in men. In the Framingham Study those men whose total cholesterol levels were below 190 mg/dl were more than three times as likely to get colon cancer as those men with cholesterol greater than 220; they were almost twice as likely to contract any kind of cancer than those with cholesterol over 280 mg/dl. This finding was met with "surprise and chagrin." Manning Feinleib, a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) epidemiologist, told Science.
And from a subsequent chapter in the same book--Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories:
In the two decades since the NIH, the surgeon general, and the National Academy of Sciences first declared that all Americans should consume low-fat diets, the research has also failed to support the most critical aspect of this recommendation: that such diets will lead to a longer and healthier life. On the contrary, it has consistently indicated that these diets may cause more harm than good. In 1986, the year before the National Cholesterol Education Program recommended cholesterol-lowering for every American with cholesterol over 200 mg/dl, the University of Minnesota epidemiologist David Jacobs visited Japan, where he learned that Japanese physicians were advising patients to raise their cholesterol, because low cholesterol levels were linked to hemorrhagic stroke. At the time, Japanese men were dying from stroke almost as frequently as American men were succumbing to heart disease. Jacobs looked for this inverse relationship between stroke and cholesterol in the MRFIT data and found it there, too. And the relationship transcended stroke: men with very low cholesterol seemed prone to premature death; below 160 mg/dl, the lower the cholesterol, the shorter the life. In April 1987, the Framingham investigators provided more reason to worry when they finally published an analysis of the relationship between cholesterol and all mortality. After thirty years of observation, there was a significant association between high cholesterol and premature death for men under fifty. But for those over fifty, both men and women, life expectancy showed no association with cholesterol. This suggested, in turn, that if low cholesterol did prevent heart disease, then it must raise the risk of dying from other causes. This was compounded by what may have been the single most striking result in the history of the cholesterol controversy, although it passed without comment by the authorities: those Framingham residents whose cholesterol declined over the first fourteen years of observations were more likely to die prematurely than those whose cholesterol remained the same or increased. They died of cardiovascular disease more frequently as well. The Framingham investigators rejected the possibility that the drop in cholesterol itself was diet-related--the result of individuals' following AHA recommendations and eating low-fat diets. Instead, they described it as a "spontaneous fall," and insisted that it must be caused by other diseases that eventually lead to death, but they offered no evidence to support that claim. The association between low cholesterol and higher mortality prompted administrators at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute once again to host a workshop and discuss it. Researchers from nineteen studies around the world met in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1990 to report their results. The data were completelyconsistent...when investigators tracked all deaths, not just heart-disease deaths, it was clear that men with cholesterol levels above 240 mg/dl tended to die prematurely because of their increased risk of heart disease. Those whose cholesterol was below 160 mg/ dl tended to die prematurely with an increased risk of cancer, respiratory and digestive diseases, and trauma. As for women, if anything, the higher their cholesterol, the longer they lived.
Now, where was the last place you read anything like that? When did you last hear that, for goodness sakes, the Surgeon General's advice could be completely wrong? Think about it: the science indicates pretty clearly, and has for a long time, that people with lower cholesterol levels tended to die younger than people with higher cholesterol levels. Furthermore, lower cholesterol levels were associated with a higher risk of cancer--three times the risk of colon cancer, as you just read, and twice the risk of "any cancer," as Mr. Taubes put it. There is more, much more in Mr. Taubes' book. It explains quite clearly how the theory drove the science, rather than the other way 'round, and also how people who stood to make a little something out of government recommending low-fat diets were instrumental in getting governmental dietary recommendations (and in some cases, standards) put in place, policies that have most likely hastened the deaths of millions. Policies that have almost certainly significantly raised people's risks of cancer and heart disease and certainly raised their risk of diabetes, another insidious disease. But you never heard a word about it, did you? Unless you were one of a handful of "cranks" that automatically distrusted any statistics--indeed, almost any information--from government.

 I still see material--magazine headlines and product labeling and so forth--touting "low-fat" diets, though the uselessness of such an approach to health has been pretty well-known for some little time now. Most people don't know any better. They just swallow it all hook, line, and sinker. They just continue to follow advice that may well be complicit in their early deaths.

 And so it is with smoking. Now, let me say at the outset that I am not about to tell you that cigarette smoking is good for you. In fact, I am not going to tell you that smoking, period, is good for you.

 What I am going to tell you is that I think the risks of smoking, especially pipe smoking, have been horrifically exaggerated, exaggerated to the point where rational discussion on the issue is scarcely possible anymore. This is partly because some people-- lots of people--simply cannot mind their own business, and partly because the enormous stream of revenue sought by government at every level and by trial lawyers simply could not be obtained from the tobacco business were the product not incessantly demonized. What I am going to suggest to you is that the risks of smoking per se, despite decades of studies, are not much more clearly delineated than what people knew back in the twenties and thirties, when they were calling cigarettes "coffin nails" and people associated cigars with successful businessmen and pipes with wise--wise and old--men. I am going to suggest to you that one of the reasons people insist that there is no "safe" level of tobacco use is that when it comes to tobacco, they define "safe" by standards that few, if any, products in the world could meet. I am going to suggest to you that statistics on smoking and health are nowhere nearly as reliable as anti-smokers might like to think and that common sense might be a better guide. I am going to suggest to you that people-- including you--routinely take risks greater than those posed by a little pipe smoking, and if someone tried to get you to stop taking them for the sake of your health or safety or longevity, you would tell him to blow it out his ear. I am going to suggest to you that there are activities considerably riskier than a little pipe smoking--or smoking, period, for that matter--about which hardly anyone ever dares say a word. In short, I am going to suggest to you that the risks of pipe smoking, at least, are not such as would get the attention of a reasonably well-informed, rational human being making fair comparisons, that they are risks not worth worrying about. Let us begin. 

After a while, it becomes difficult to take statistics very seriously. For one thing, the more you read, the clearer it becomes that government at the federal and state levels and trial attorneys have had, and likely continue to have, a very serious interest in making these statistics and anyone involved with tobacco look as bad as possible.

 For another, statistics tell you nothing about the fate of any individual smoker--or non-smoker, for that matter. We've all encountered elderly smokers who appear to have no problems at all.

 Statistics are often cited in such a way as to leave definitions unclear. It can be hard (I would go so far as to say "next to impossible") to sort out the risks from one behavior and those from another behavior, when both behaviors are frequently seen in the same individuals. For example, I've seen risk of oral cancer stated to be 2-3 times higher in smokers than in non-smokers. I have also seen it stated to be SIX times higher--in the same article that said DRINKERS had six times a teetotaler's risk.

 Now, first of all, talking about how "smokers" get oral cancer--or heart disease, or stroke is ridiculous. "Smokers" is a very broad term, covering both the Marine who smokes 30 cigars a year and the guy who smokes 60 cigarettes a day (they're out there, I've seen 'em). It covers the guy who smokes additive-free English pipe tobacco and doesn't inhale and the gal who drags deeply on menthols or clove cigarettes. It's like saying "drinkers" get cirrhosis of the liver or the DTs. "Drinkers" covers everything from the glass-of-red- wine-with-dinner guy to the in-the-gutter-alcoholic-bumming-nickels-to-buy-"Thunderbird" guy. Dose and frequency are critical when it comes to both smoking and drinking, but just saying "smokers" and "drinkers" glosses right over this crucial point.

 And how many smokers have you met who were also teetotalers? And if most "smokers" are also "drinkers," aren't those stats really a little bit hard to interpret? What about mild-to-moderate pipe smokers who work out regularly, have a stable family life, get plenty of rest, eat brightly-colored vegetables, and avoid more than tiny amounts of refined carbohydrates, pray often, and enjoy their work? Is the sample group of such people even large enough to draw meaningful statistics? And if not, to what degree can you isolate the effects of the pipe-smoking from the lack of exercise, from the obesity, from the liter of Coca-Cola drunk every day, from the lack of spirituality, from the miserable work environment?

 Why doesn't it occur to you at some point that if higher cholesterol levels are associated with a lower level of certain cancers (or, if the levels are high enough, "any cancers," as Mr. Taubes puts it in the first of the two quotes) that a medical establishment that is prescribing cholesterol-lowering statins left and right is actively engaged in promoting the very cancers it claims to be fighting with its virulent opposition to tobacco use? 

Why doesn't it occur to you that a medical establishment that has been dead wrong on diet, obesity, and heart disease for decades, giving the American people and the federal government advice that has cost and/or ruined only-God-knows-how-many lives, that is clearly clique- and fad-driven, vulnerable to poorly framed, agenda-driven studies, may not be all that competent to tell you whether a nice, relaxing pipe in the evening is, overall, good for you, bad for you, or neutral?

 Shoot, I don't know. I have watched the "experts" in one area after another make absolute fools of themselves in full view of the public, year after year, and nobody seems to question them, whether it's on economics, on government, Scripture, or health. It often seems to me that the whole nation is on intellectual autopilot, completely unwilling to question authority or to investigate much of anything on their own.

 Would it help you to understand the situation if you knew that about forty thousand people in the United States--forty thousand out of well over three hundred million--are diagnosed with oral cancer every year--about the same number as are killed in traffic accidents every year? And do you see people campaigning to stop you from "drinking"--whatever that means--or from driving?

 To bring up a particularly nasty subject, what about homosexuality? The "lifestyle" is such that it is pretty well known that the average lifespan of male homosexuals in the United States is considerably lower than that of heterosexuals, but anyone who suggests that people ought not to indulge in homosexual activity will be immediately denounced as a religious bigot.

 Sales of motorcycles have soared over the last ten years or so, haven't they? Yet, who would argue that you are safer on a motorcycle than you are in car? And have you seen serious proposals for eliminating motorcycling for the sake of improving average lifespan?

  Government routinely makes decisions that put your life at risk--or at least the lives of some of its citizens. For example, they keep raising the CAFE standards--the fuel-efficiency standards that automobile manufacturers must meet. Now, while computerization and technology can help, the bottom line is that in order to make a car go further on less fuel, you must lighten its weight, and lightening the weight of the nation's automobile fleet is a sure recipe for increasing traffic fatalities. Light cars crumple more easily than heavy cars. Simple as that. More people die for the sake of fuel efficiency, but it seems that is a risk your government is willing for you to take.

 I hate to keep returning to diet, but it is a subject that I know well, partly because of my work in the medical equipment industry. The odds that you will develop heart disease, perhaps congestive heart failure, and/or diabetes from your perpetual obesity are really quite high. If you will excuse the phrase, I'd say that the majority of the patients with whom I deal fit this--ahem!--profile. And yet the federal government continues to subsidize the production of corn, which ends up getting used largely in the production of corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, the use of which is a major factor in becoming obese. In other words, the federal government is subsidizing a product that is well known to contribute to the morbidity of the citizenry.

 It subsidizes corn syrup and demonizes tobacco. Just spiffing. And you think the government is concerned about your health? Friends, if you're more than thirty years old and haven't yet figured out that when it comes right down to it, government is primarily concerned with power and revenue, I'd suggest you pay more attention.

 The reality is that your chances of contracting oral cancer from any cause are actually pretty low, and that is pretty much the worst risk you face from pipe smoking, the risks of all other potential effects being so low they are actually kind of hard to measure. If all you are doing is smoking a pipeful of tobacco--or even two or three!--every evening and having a glass of wine with your dinner, the odds of you contracting oral cancer are just not high enough for you to waste mental energy worrying about it, any more than there is any point in worrying yourself to a nub every time you get in the car to go to the grocery store. I recall discussing the issue with a theoretical physicist I once knew--I used to be a member of Mensa (and before you get started, yes, I could rejoin any time), you know, and knew highly intelligent people from all walks of life--one time, and as soon as he grasped the fundamental point, he said, "Oh, I get it: what's the point in worrying about having three times a vanishingly-small risk?" Would that everyone could grasp such a simple point!

 You know, sometimes I recall a Monty Python skit that involved a "Mr. Smoketoomuch." We used to have that concept in our culture--the idea that a person could smoke too much, which of course implies that there is some level at which a person is not smoking too much. What is that level?

 One of the most amusing, and most telling, things I found during my Googling was that someone had asked a question--basically, how many cigars can I smoke and be safe? And, of course, no one had really answered the question. Every available answer was some variety of, "There is no safe level of tobacco use."

 That is ridiculous. How stupid. When I was in the Marine Corps Reserve, I used to know Marines who didn't smoke most of the year, but when they went on ATD (Annual Training Duty--two weeks every summer), they used to buy a fistful of cigars and smoke them. You can't seriously mean to tell me that those Marines were as "unsafe" as the man who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day for his entire adult life! Or, suppose a man decides to try cigars, and after smoking but one, decides he's never had such an awful experience in his life and never has another one. You mean to tell me that such a man is "unsafe" in the same way as the "smokers" who are allegedly so many multiples more likely to contract a variety of loathsome diseases? Of course he wouldn't be! Simple common sense should tell you that if you don't think it's "safe" to smoke one measly cigar during your entire lifetime, you have set the bar of "safe" way too high!

 Yet it will take you very little googling indeed to find people telling you that there is "no" safe level of tobacco use. It's intellectual rot-gut of the first water, something that should be immediately obvious to anyone willing to give the matter, say, thirty seconds of serious consideration, but it seems to me that most non-smokers don't give it those thirty seconds.

 If tobacco use presents a risk, obviously more tobacco use presents more risk than less tobacco use and vice versa. And at some point, the frequency of usage has to be low enough that the risk from tobacco use, whilst not disappearing entirely, perhaps, becomes small enough that you are justified in pretty much forgetting about it. That is not really in question, not amongst people who really want to think about the subject. The question is really, "What is that level of use?" And the answer is that no one really knows. There are too many variables, and too much bad science, some of which has made its way into governmental recommendations.

 It is a stubborn, if curious, fact that even among cigarette smokers, who are at far more risk than any other kind of tobacco user, about fifty percent of them do not die of smoking-related illnesses. This alone ought to tell you that cigarettes are not infallible causes of disease, and neither are pipes or cigars. There are too many other factors to be reckoned with to say any such thing.

 No doctor, no scientist, can look at any given individual, and bet his life that that particular man will get a particular smoking-related disease, or even any smoking- related disease, not before diagnostic indicators begin to appear.If a man begins smoking 10 pipefuls of tobacco a day, or 50 cigarettes, or 10 cigars, nobody in the world can look at him a week after he started and say, "You will, with 100 percent certainty, develop disease X at some point in your life." It can't be done. All that can be done is to say that tobacco smoke has certain effects, one of which is to raise the odds of contracting some illnesses.

 No, no one really knows for sure at just what point a person is justified in pretty much forgetting about the risk involved in his smoking--or in starting to worry about it. But it isn't like people haven't tried to figure it out. Back in the days before the majority of people completely lost their minds on the subject of smoking, it used to be respectable to think about what a "safer" cigarette would be like. After all, it was reasoned, it was hardly likely that millions upon millions of American cigarette smokers could be quickly persuaded to quit completely, so if you could market a safer cigarette, many lives might be saved thereby. As Jacob Sullum tells the story,
In 1976 Gori, a microbiologist who oversaw the government's safer-cigarette research as director of the NCI's Smoking and Health Program, argued in Science that "low-toxicity cigarettes hold significant promise in the prevention of diseases related to smoking." Gori looked at various epidemiological studies to see at what level of smoking they were able to detect an increased risk of disease. For lung cancer, the average was 5.7 cigarettes a day. For coronary heart disease, it was 3.5. For all smoking-related diseases, it was 2. Based on these data and information about the composition of smoke from pre-1960 cigarettes (the kind smoked by subjects in the studies), he estimated "critical values" for tar, nicotine, carbone monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen cyanide, and acrolein. Gori emphasized that "it would be erroneous to interpret these critical values as indicators of safe smoking levels." But he concluded that "a rapid shift in cigarette consumption habits toward the proposed range of critical values would make it reasonable to expect that the current epidemic proportions of smoking-related diseases could be reduced to minimal levels in slightly over a decade." Two years later, Gori went a step further. Writing in JAMA, he and Cornelius J. Lynch, a scientist involved in the NCI-funded research, noted that the levels of toxic components in cigarette smoke had changed dramatically since 1960. On the basis of laboratory analyses of the smoke from twenty-seven low-yield brands, they estimated how many of each would be equivalent to two pre-1960 cigarettes in terms of the six components they measured. Nine Benson & Hedges Lights, twenty-eight Lucky 100s, and seventy-two Carlton Menthols, for example, yielded as much tar as two pre-1960 cigarettes. You could smoke four Benson & Hedges Lights, eight Lucky 100s, or twenty-three Carlton Menthols without exceeding the "critical value" for any of the six measured components. Gori and Lynch again emphasized that "these are by no means safe levels but merely imply that, for a smoker whose daily consumption does not exceed these levels, any attendant tobacco-related mortality risk may be epidemiologically indiscernible from that of a nonsmoker." Gori's suggestions for harm reduction did not fit well with the mood of the public health establishment. As he later put it, "The new policy was: Smokers shouldn't be helped; smokers should be eliminated."
Now, there are a couple of things to note here. One is that as far back as the 1970s, at least a couple of scientists were acknowledging the obvious: that there logically has to be some level of smoking at which one can no longer discern an increased risk of smoking-related illnesses. The question to ask is, "What is that level?" Is it ten cigarettes a day? Or is it one cigarette in a lifetime?

 Gori's answer back then was, more-or-less, two old-fashioned cigarettes a day. That is consistent with what I remember reading in that old Surgeon General's report and with what I have read in the mortality tables I have seen since--you remember? Two cigarettes a day, 3 cigars a day, 5 pipefuls a day?

 The second thing I would draw your attention to--it is elaborated in Sullum's subsequent material--is that the "public health establishment" wanted nothing to do with "safer cigarettes." Likewise, they have wanted nothing to do with cigarette smokers switching to either pipes or cigars, even though it is well known that the risks associated with pipes or cigars are far, far lower than the risks of smoking cigarettes.

 When the "public health establishment" talks about tobacco, it cannot concede anything, not even the obvious. To do so would undermine the agenda of those who have a utopian dream of completing eliminating tobacco use from the planet, and also undercut the agenda of those governmental and trial-lawyering entities who realize that if smoking is in any way legitimized,it will be far more difficult to milk their little cash cow. 

When you're dealing with people like this, people with obvious commitments to obvious agendas, you do well to take what they have to say with a grain of salt.

 Again, none of this is to say that moderate pipe smoking is utterly without risk. I am simply pointing out that what common sense and the none-too-scientific but nevertheless usually fairly accurate assessments of millions of people over long periods of time tell you is not at all outside the bounds of scientific possibility: that there is such a thing as smoking too much; that it is therefore plausible that there is such a thing as smoking, but not smoking too much; that cigarettes are much worse for your health than any other form of smoking, and that, when it comes to cigars and pipes, you pretty much have to smoke like a furnace before you run levels of risk worth worrying about.

 Let me flesh that last point out a bit, as non-smokers may have no clue. As I've said, it's 3 cigars or 5 pipefuls a day--or two cigarettes. Now, most people are familiar with about how long it takes to smoke a cigarette. They've seen too many people duck outside for a quick smoke break not to be familiar with it. How long does it take? About seven minutes, max? So you've got about fourteen minutes cigarette-smoking time a day before you run an appreciable risk, right? How long does it take to smoke a cigar? Well, you know, it's been so long since I smoked a cigar that I couldn't be sure of my recollection, so I asked a couple of cigar-smoking friends of mine. Their answers may interest you. Both gentlemen shall remain nameless. Here's the question I asked:
Question for you; as part of some comments I'm preparing, I'd like to make reference to about how long it takes to smoke a cigar, but it's been so long since I smoked one I am no longer certain. If you don't mind the question, about how long does it take you to smoke most cigars? And about how many do you smoke in a week?
and the first gentleman's answer:
Maybe a couple hours? I never really think about it when I do it. Lots of times I let it burn out and finish the next day. 2-3 a week, some weeks 5, some weeks 0. They keep in a proper humidor forever so there's no rush.
and the second gentleman's answer:
I've been smoking cigars off and on for about 20 years so yes, I can give you some time frames on how long it take to smoke a stogie. In fact, that is what has drawn me to my pipe is the time difference; that and pipe tobacco is cheaper, especially if you purchase it in bulk. (Cigars can run as much as 10-20 dollars for ONE compared to 4-5 dollars an ounce of pipe tobacco). For what I would spend on a box of cigars I could get a decent pipe and all my accessories. However, there are still times when I like a good cigar and these are when I have time. What is key to smoking a cigar is NEVER try to rush through one. Take a few hits then let it "rest" for a minute or so then take more hits. The draw should always be cool and not have a nasty taste. That being said it has taken me somewhere in the neighborhood of about one to one hour and a half on average; the shortest time it's taken me is probably forty five minutes. As for how many a week? Before I discovered pipes, would smoke a cigar once to twice a week. It all goes back to time; I get off work late and the last thing I want to do every night or every other night is light up a cigar and spend the next hour and a half out back, then go to bed. These smokes are for the weekends.
One man claims 2-3 cigars a week, the other, 1 or 2. Both men indicate that it probably takes 90 to 120 minutes to smoke a cigar. So, let's note first: our "three cigars a day" level of smoking would be about four and a half hours of cigar-smoking time per day. That's before you start to find meaningful differences in mortality rates. Four and half hours versus fourteen minutes. That's how much more lethal cigarettes are than cigars.

 Now: how long does it take to smoke a pipe? I can answer that one from my own experience: depending on the size of the pipe and the tobacco I put in it, it takes me anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes to smoke a pipeful, with about an hour or so probably being typical. In other words, if we take our hypothetical five pipefuls a day as the cut-off, I have about five hours of smoking a day before I enter the realm of noticeably increased mortality rates.

 Are you beginning to see what I mean about having to smoke like a furnace if you're a cigar smoker or a pipe smoker? Seriously, with these two methods of enjoying tobacco, you really have to smoke a lot in order to run a risk worth worrying about.

 Now, we must also note, secondly, that neither of these two cigar smokers, despite fairly frequent comments about smoking on Facebook, could be fairly said to be smoking very much. If you take the high range of each man's estimate and average them, they are smoking two and a half cigars a week. Both men, according to the current state of my knowledge, are starting to smoke pipes, too, but my impression is that they are not really smoking more, or at least not much more, just that they are smoking more pipefuls and fewer cigars, so that the overall amount of time they are smoking is about the same.

 And how much do I smoke? I suppose, if you were to guess from the amount of pipe-related stuff I've put up on Facebook lately, you might think that I smoke quite a lot. The reality is otherwise. I try to smoke at least one pipeful a day, but often, I do not succeed. I only smoke in the house when my wife, who is asthmatic, is going to be absent for a few days. I do not have enough time to really enjoy smoking whilst driving to or from work. I am not supposed to smoke in the company vehicle. My half-hour lunch break precludes smoking more than half a bowl, and even then, it would mean skipping lunch in order to smoke. This means that my smoking is generally confined to a pipeful enjoyed on the porch of an evening, with a book in my lap.

 Knowing that I would be including this information in a blogpost, I have kept track of the number of pipefuls I've smoked since resuming pipe smoking, and, divided by the number of days since I resumed it, I am averaging .69 pipefuls a day.

  Point 

 Six 

 Nine

 Friends, need I belabor the point that in all likelihood, the cigar and pipe smokers you know are simply not all that likely to be smoking enough to worry about it? How many people do you actually know who spend more than five hours a day smoking pipes and/or cigars? Do you know anybody like that? I don't. With all the restrictions on where you can smoke these days, for all but a handful of people, it would seem to be impossible to spend hours every day smoking pipes or cigars.

 To return to points I've already made, then, we know--and have known for decades--that in practical terms, a person can smoke a few pipefuls a day--or even one or two cigarettes--and run very little risk of smoking-related illness. We know that government has, for decades, pushed a nutritional agenda that has conspicuously raised the risk of cancer in general and certain cancers in particular. You can bet your bottom dollar that a lot of those cancers are unfairly blamed on tobacco use. We know that there are very definite agendas on the part of certain entities: money, for governments at all levels and for trial lawyers; power, for people in government; prestige (or at least not being opposed to "consensus") for people in educational and scientific fields; and what I can only describe as sanctimonious snottiness on the part of people who just think it's their business to regulate what other people do with their lives. With all these factors at work, why would I not say, with Mark Twain,
I don't want any of your statistics; I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it.
I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering out how much a man's health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years' indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking; and in the equally fatal practice of drinking coffee; and in playing billiards occasionally; and in taking a glass of wine at dinner, etc. etc. And you are always figuring out how many women have been burned to death because of the dangerous fashion of wearing expansive hoops, etc. etc.
You never see more than one side of the question. You are blind to the fact that most old men in America smoke and drink coffee, although, according to your theory, they ought to have died young; and that hearty old Englishmen drink wine and survive it, and portly old Dutchmen both drink and smoke freely, and yet grow older and fatter all the time. And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone), nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking.
You know, I have a good deal more faith in the common wisdom of people over the generations than I do in statistics that, frankly, often rest on very questionable assumptions. People have long known that smoking cigarettes is bad for you; they were called "coffin nails" way before any Surgeon General's reports came out. People could see what smoking cigarettes did to you; they could hear the cigarette smoker's racking cough in the morning, they could see the diminished lung power, etc., and it didn't take scientific studies for cigarettes to earn a bad reputation. But save among a relatively small number of anti-tobacco zealots, pipes never had such a reputation, and cigars had a much better reputation than cigarettes, and I am convinced that it was because people in general never noticed a strong correlation between moderate pipe or cigar smoking and massive health breakdowns. Indeed, they noticed in pipe smokers a generally calmer and less stressed disposition than many members of the public enjoy.

 You never saw a pipe or cigar smoker with smoker's cough, did you? Not unless, maybe, they were former or current cigarette smokers, too, or unless they inhaled, which few pipe or cigar smokers do. I am quite convinced that if cigarette smoking had never become widespread, we would not ever have bothered to have a Surgeon General's report on smoking and health. The health consequences of cigar, and especially pipe smoking, are not such as attract people's attention.

 I suppose I ought to try again to sum up and draw these thoughts together. It is difficult. The reality is that this material was written over a period of weeks, and now it's jumbled to the point where it would probably take me a whole day to un-jumble it. But in the end...well, as I keep saying, I've been working on this post for some little time, just as I get a little time from day to day. Often, it has been just a few minutes at the beginning of the day, whilst I'm drinking my coffee--which I take, as I've often said to my co-workers, "without crap in it," that is, black and unsweetened. And as a rule, soon after I've made a few notes or written a few sentences, I have gone to get some exercise. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it's calisthenics--pull-ups, burpees, and sit-ups. Three sets of three pull-ups, then burpees and sit-ups. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, it's running--two miles on Tuesday and Thursday and that much or more on Saturday. That is just what I do to maintain some muscle and lung power; it doesn't include the karate, which is still exercise, but not quite as intense, more what you might call "moderate" exercise, being focused more on balance and skill development than on muscle and wind. 

I eat less garbage than most people I know. Less sugar, less corn syrup, less refined starch. I make a point of it. I have come to regard the stuff as darned near lethal, at least in quantity, and while it is very difficult to completely avoid it in this country, there is no need to eat more of it than you have to. Except around Christmastime. Maybe.

 And it shows. According to my home monitor, my blood pressure is typically around 110/70, and my resting pulse rate is usually somewhere around 60. I look strong, or at least for a fifty-year-old man, I look strong. You might find it amusing, but whenever my ESL students have the opportunity to exercise their English skills by describing me, the most commonly used adjective is "strong" (One lady was kind enough to say, though she said it in Spanish, "guapo") And I look fit. I think I could stand to lose another ten or twelve pounds; others claim not to be able to see any extra weight on me.

 Now: I have been keeping track of my smoking in my little pocket calendar, just like I keep track of many other things. And since I resumed smoking, would you believe that I have averaged .69--read carefully, that is point-six-nine, not sixty-nine--pipefuls a day? Not even a whole pipeful every day! There are days where all I manage to get in is a half- bowl, and there are days where I don't smoke at all. You might think it's funny that I would go to the trouble of writing this enormous post (although you should bear in mind it was written in bits and pieces over a weeks-long period) when I smoke less than a pipeful a day on average. I don't know how people smoke more than that. I know they do, but they have to have different jobs and lifestyles.

 I am, as of this writing, a medical equipment driver/ATP (Assistive Technology Professional, if you want to know). I do not have a desk job and cannot smoke at my desk. I am not supposed to smoke in the company vehicle. I live only twelve miles from work, so a quarter-bowl is as much as I can get through on the way to or from work and I don't often bother. I cannot smoke in the house due to an asthmatic wife, and even if I could, I have enough other things on my agenda that it would be difficult to smoke more than a bowl or so a day. And yet you can bet your bottom dollar that some bloated barge of a human being--no offense intended to the bloated barges I know--will see me smoking my pitiful little .69th of a bowl of tobacco and tut-tut over the risk I am taking with my health.

 How absurd. And yet, how typical. You look at pudgy little Henry Waxman, or pudgy little Hillary Clinton, or any of the other pudgy or outright bloated, out-of-shape people in Congress who would cheerfully jack tobacco taxes up 2000 percent, and tell me that they are healthier than I am, solely because they don't use a little tobacco. I will laugh at you.

 I must relate an anecdote, and then a link to a very amusing little bit of writing, before closing this section. Since I resumed smoking, I have bought a few pipes on E- Bay, and continue to window-shop, knowing that eventually I am going to snag a real bargain. Amongst the pipes I look at are old GBDs, and last time I looked, there were multiple listings from the same seller. Apparently, this lady was trying to sell off the pipe collection, which was enormous, of a man who'd recently died. The pipes had belonged to him and his father, and, to look at the pictures, it was clear that they had all been well-used. These weren't occasional puffers; they were obviously fairly heavy smokers. What got my attention was that in every pipe's description, the seller noted that it had belonged to a man who had recently died "in his late 80s." Yes, it is clear: 60 or more years of, as Twain put it, "the fatal practice of smoking" finally got him!

 Now, the link is to a little piece called SMOKERS DIE "EARLY".... It is quite tongue in cheek and I thought it definitely chuckle-worthy, pointing out, as it does, that rather a lot of very old people made it to their ripe old ages in spite of having poisoned themselves with tobacco for decades. I haven't fact-checked the article, and I was not familiar with all the names mentioned, but I had heard of some of them, like Jean Calment, and I quote the section dealing with her:
Mme Jeanne Calment, who was listed as the world's oldest human whose birth date could be certified, died at 122. She had begun smoking as a young woman. At 117 she quit smoking (by that age she was just smoking two or three cigarettes per day because she was blind and was too proud to ask often for someone to light her cigarettes for her). But she resumed smoking when she was 118 because, as she said, not smoking made her miserable and she was too old to be made miserable. She also said to her doctor: "Once you've lived as long as me, only then can you tell me not to smoke." Good point! [USA Today, "Way to go, champ," 10/18/95].
Really, go read the article. You'll enjoy it--unless you're a die- hard anti-smoker without a shred of humor in your soul.

Christianity and Tobacco
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how Christians--in North America, at least--will seemingly just turn off parts of their thinking apparatus when it comes to certain people and subjects. They love C.S. Lewis, Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Space Trilogy, and The Abolition of Man, but amazingly often, the same people who love Lewis' reasoning on these subjects will come to the subjects of his beer-drinking and pipe-smoking and think, without really thinking about it, that this beloved scholar and author just must not have been as enlightened on those subjects as their own tee-totaling, non-smoking selves.

 Every Christian I have met and with whom I've discussed the subject has adored Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and they are even entertained by the pipe-smoking therein--and yet, if you actually were to light up a pipe in their presence, many of them would look at you like you had just sprayed the room down with Raid.

 Some folks out there--sad to say, I can pretty much guess who--will object that smoking is a sin. To that, I must say that I do not think you can prove it from scripture, and frankly, if you cannot prove it from scripture, I really do not care much for what else you might have to say about the subject.

 Now, the first thing to note is that smoking tobacco is simply not mentioned in scripture. It is not there. Just reading the Bible, I am convinced, would never put it into your head that smoking is a sin. Nor would it even occur to you that it might ever be something about which you should be concerned, lest you over-tempt a weaker brother. Seriously: from which biblical text would you draw such ideas? There is nothing there! These notions come entirely from outside the Bible; they are not addressed in it. They are as foreign to it as the idea that drinking soda might be a sin. And yet millions of Christians believe it! Millions more of us are left wondering how on earth the first group dares to interpret texts that are not there.

 Ultimately, I am convinced that much, maybe most, Christian opposition to moderate smoking (I am not championing excessive smoking any more than I champion excessive drinking) comes not from scripture, but from generations-old, badly-reasoned teaching that smoking is "worldly." Now, you would never get that impression from just reading the Bible. I do not believe that anyone would, were the idea not planted in his head before he read it. But because people go to church and hear the preacher and often don't trouble themselves to actually dissect what the preacher is saying, they just pick up these erroneous ideas like dogs pick up burrs when they walk through a field. Further, when challenged (if they are ever challenged) on the point, they will repeat the arguments their preachers used without ever really having thought them through, and then act shocked if someone should regard them as less than inarguable. 

This whole subject--smoking--is one of those weird little things about Baptist life in particular. There is the acknowledgement by some that smoking per se is not a sin, the common phrase "smoking won't send you to Hell, it'll just make you smell like you've already been there," the seminary president's picture with him holding a pipe (I'm told it's long since gone), etc., but somehow, it's frowned upon, and not just for health reasons. It's just become a part of Baptist expectations that you not drink or smoke, etc., and if you correctly point out that such commands don't exist, you will immediately be suspected of being "worldly."

 You might think that the foregoing is more than a little bit silly, but shortly before I published this post, I heard much the same thing yet again! I heard a man, a man whose judgement in many things is very reliable, say that no, there are no clear Biblical commands against drinking, smoking, watching certain movies, and so forth, but that there were certain people (Hello!) who would defend Christian liberty in those areas to the death, but not consider whether or not those behaviors made them look more like Jesus or more like the world.

 It blew my mind that I could sit there and listen to a man even half-suggest that defending Christian liberty could in any way be bad, but there it was, in all its naked glory. I had to wonder why on earth we shouldn't defend Christian liberty--after all, it's not like it's not under constant assault! Has been ever since the early days of the church! Why else do you think Paul wrote:
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body,but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Col. 2:20-23
I noticed--believe me, I noticed--that he didn't include wearing makeup in his list, even though it sure used to be on the unofficial Baptist list of "worldly" behaviors. Wouldn't have been wise of him. His wife wears makeup, along with every other woman in the church, as far as I can tell. You can bet had he tried to slip that one into the list, he would have never heard the end of it!

 I really do wonder if some of you are getting the full impact of the passage I quoted. In fact, I go beyond wondering; I will say that some of you flat-out miss it, despite a seminary education, in some cases. Let me knock a little bit of it out, just to highlight what you should notice without me having to spoon-feed it to you:
...why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees...in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?
Does that help? Do you better understand what Paul is telling you here? As plain as day, he is telling you that submitting yourself to man-made commandments and teachings that do not have their origin in the Word of God is to act as though you were living in the world. And if submitting to such commands is said to be like living in the world, what are we to say of making up such commands?

 I sometimes wonder how on earth such people decide that drinking, smoking, etc., is "worldly." Is it because people "in the world" do it? That doesn't seem smart to me. After all, people "in the world" do a lot of things. They drink soda. They eat twinkies. They listen to "Gangnam Style" on the radio. They listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. They watch Sean Hannity on cable TV. They drive cars. They use telephones. They enlist in the military. They go to work. They have--ahem!--marital relations. They parent children. They care for the elderly. They cook. They clean.

 If you want to know where this kind of thinking can lead, visit an Amish farmhouse and ask to use the telephone sometime. It'll be out by the side of the road, if they own one at all--telephones in the house being "worldly" and all.

 You know, you don't have to guess at this stuff. The Bible actually tells you what the answers are. Let's go first to 1 John 2:15-16:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
You will note, I hope, that drinking, dancing, card-playing, smoking, wearing make-up, and so forth, do not make the list of the things that are "in the world." You can, if you like, flesh out the "lust of the flesh" part by going to Galatians 5:19-21:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these...
Now, put John and Paul together, and what have you got? The things of the world--wordly things--are: "the lust of the flesh," which includes "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these" and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life." Drunkenness--not having a drink. And so forth. You will notice the list as a whole is concerned with pride of possession and of position, with out-of-control appetites and illicit sexual behavior, with inappropriate emotions and useless arguing, not smoking, not friendly card games, not movies, not a mug of beer, not lipstick, etc.

 We have gotten to the point where people will now suggest from the pulpit that we should consider abstaining from behaviors that Jesus indulged in--drinking wine, for example--lest we appear to be "worldly." To my mind, that is a step too close to saying that Jesus appeared worldly--which is, of course, similar to a charge that the Pharisees leveled against Him (and Paul, too!), and it deserves much the same response.

 Let me suggest to you, if you want to keep your church members from "looking like the world," that you encourage them to concentrate on:
...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...
things which are in short supply in the world, and will do more to differentiate your flock from the world than abstaining from things they were never commanded to abstain from ever will!

 I used to think that not enough Christians have actually read the entire Bible, and I still think that, but I now think that more Christians have read it than I once believed. However, I am quite sure that relatively few Christians, despite the cornucopia of study Bibles and commentaries available, have read the Bible analytically instead of devotionally. That is not intended to be a criticism, just an observation. Put in stark terms, though, it means that an awful lot of Christians read their Bibles for comfort and encouragement, but do not look to it to evaluate what they are taught from the pulpit as much as they could. 

At any rate--meandered a bit, haven't I?--smoking isn't mentioned in Scripture. The first thing that someone will say is, "Well, snorting cocaine isn't mentioned in scripture, either!" and, of course, he will be quite right. However, it seems to me that likening smoking tobacco to snorting cocaine is bordering on silliness. Cocaine is an intoxicant; no one uses cocaine for any purpose but to become intoxicated. The Bible does prohibit drunkenness, which is naught but intoxication, and I don't think it matters much whether you are intoxicated with alcohol or with cocaine or anything else. Therefore, I think the biblical case against cocaine is pretty much a slam-dunk: Christians shouldn't use it. Tobacco is not an intoxicant. The worst chain-smokers I have ever seen could not fairly be described by any reasonable observer as intoxicated.

 In short, "someone" has made a correct but completely irrelevant point.  Let us move on.

 I can really only think of three other arguments that I have heard Christians make against smoking. One is that smoking is harmful, and since the body is the temple of Christ, we shouldn't smoke. One is that, sure, smoking per se isn't sinful, but since there might be a "weaker brother" out there somewhere, we shouldn't smoke. The last is that smoking is poor stewardship.

 As regards the first argument, that smoking harms the temple of Christ, I think this argument is poorly drawn. It is true that the Bible talks about the body being the temple, but the point being made is not that the body should be maintained in as perfect a condition as is possible, which, besides being nearly impossible, leads only to time- wasting fanaticism as regards every health habit imaginable. The point is that believers shouldn't use the temple of Christ to commit sin! It is also, I think, fair to question whether "smoking" is "harmful," given some of the material discussed in the section of this post devoted to health.

 As regards the second argument, the "weaker brother" argument, I must say that the verses on this subject are consistently some of the most poorly applied--indeed, hypocritically applied--and understood in the whole of scripture. Paul does indeed talk about abstaining from wine and meat and so forth under some circumstances. The most relevant wording is (from the ESV, and although there are more verses that could be used, in my opinion, they mostly draw out and explain these from other perspectives):
It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
How many times have these words been used to prohibit drinking alcohol 'mongst church members? Beyond count, I am sure! And smoking is not far behind! And yet it is grossly misapplied, as is:
...if your brother is grieved by what you eat...
...or presumably, smoke...
...you are no longer walking in love.
The idea that is always presented with these verses, in my experience, is that, no, smoking is not discussed per se as a sin, but, since there are Christians out there who are persuaded that it is a sin, the fact that they might be tempted into smoking by the fact that we smoke should be enough to dissuade us from smoking for their sakes. Some will even say that if other Christians are upset by the fact that we smoke, even if they are not tempted to smoke themselves, that is sufficient reason to abstain. I don't think such interpretations are tenable at all. For one thing, if those interpretations are correct, then, frankly, there is nothing, no activity on earth, in which you can partake and they would lead to the near-extinction of Christianity within a generation, for there is nothing you can think of, I am sure, about which someone, somewhere does not have a tender conscience. Eating meat, because it is mentioned in these verses, is the most glaring example. Let me state it plainly: the exact same reasoning by which people attempt, using these verses, to prohibit Christians from drinking wine (or smoking) inevitably means that all Christians must be vegetarians. 

You could easily, very easily, use these verses and such reasoning to prohibit sex even within marriage, for there are surely some sadly deluded weak brothers somewhere in the world who think that even married sex is sinful. And without sex, friends, there are no children born to Christians.

 Using these verses and such reasoning, you could quickly extinguish just about every behavior in which human beings partake, no matter how innocent. Have you ever seen a Southern Baptist or Evangelical of any stripe--or, for that matter, a Christian, period--argue that that church members shouldn't eat barbecue because "some eat only vegetables?" It may seem like an absurd suggestion, but, really, the reasoning is exactly the same as that used against smoking!

 Do you really think that by these verses, Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, intended to ban every behavior that might tempt, or grieve, some believer somewhere? I don't. I don't think that at all. You might note, in your reading of these verses, that these are not stated as hypotheticals. That is, the phrasing is not, "that might cause your brother to stumble..." and not, "...if your brother might be grieved...". The words are "that causes" and "is grieved".These are not possibilities, these are not hypotheticals, these are not someone, somewhere else, who isn't on the scene and may not even know you exist. These are people whom you know, at least slightly. This is something that is actually happening.

 You should also keep in mind that there is a yawning chasm, a world of difference, between your brother being "grieved" at what you do and your brother being annoyed that you don't think he's correct and do as he wishes.

 Nor are these verses talking about necessarily refraining from eating meat, drinking wine (or smoking) because of, or even in the presence of, Christians whom you know simply disagree with you on those subjects. The idea is very clear: you are not to be, by doing these things, cajoling or influencing a brother to actually do something which he is convinced is sinful. If your brother is personally convinced that eating meat (to use a wild example which no one in the church would ever actually use today, despite the plain fact that the reasoning is exactly what people would use to discourage alcoholic beverages) is sinful, but doesn't mind that you have a baloney sandwich, you are perfectly free to do so. Now, if he is actually seriously upset at the sight of your supposed sin ("grieves"), then, out of consideration for him, you might want to wait 'til later to have your lunch. And if your friend is a former alcoholic and simply hasn't the self-control to handle the presence of a glass of wine, then--duh!--you ought to wait 'til later to drink your wine. And of course, if your friend just hates the smell of tobacco smoke and thinks he's going to die of cancer ten seconds after he gets a whiff, you should have enough consideration not to smoke around him. And God knows you ought to have enough sense not to smoke around someone with lung problems or tobacco allergies! And so forth.

 But skip the baloney (or your smoke) altogether, forever? Especially for someone you do not even know, who might only have heard that you eat baloney (or smoke)? I don't think the application can be legitimately drawn. If it could, what do you do with the verses that show Jesus turning water into wine (I know; you will tell me that, in that case, it was "grape juice," even though linguistically, culturally, and situationally, it makes no sense at all and there is not the slightest justification for such an interpretation in the text), that show Jesus drinking wine Himself, that tell us the elements of the Lord's Supper, that advise Timothy to drink, not just water, but a little wine for the sake of his stomach? What will you do with the verses that talk about wine making glad the heart of man? What will you do with the verses showing Jesus eating the Passover feast, which involved a roast lamb?

 Given the whole of the Bible, I think the meaning of these verses is pretty clear: you shouldn't be doing something around someone if he is actually going to do, as a result of you doing it around him, something he is convinced is sinful. Nor should you be doing something blatantly inconsiderate around him, or something that genuinely upsets him to see you doing.

 But beyond that? I read a post somewhere once that talked about how some people are "professional weaker brethren." I have even met one--at least one, for sure. These are people who are not really at risk at all of violating their consciences on a given subject, but will tell you otherwise in an attempt to control your behavior, and not just when you are around them! And yes, I am suggesting that, at least to a degree, they lie to themselves and everyone around them when they do this.

 The one whom I have personally met and knew fairly well, although he was a fine fellow in many respects, furnishes a fine example. He would tell you with a straight face that you shouldn't drink because of the "weaker brother," and he was that weaker brother! Now, there was no more risk of him touching a drop of beer or of uisge de bheatha or wine or anything else alcoholic than there is of you jumping to the top of the Empire State Building, but, since he couldn't demonstrate from scripture that drinking per se was a sin, he would say that sort of thing to make sure that you never touched a drop in spite of there not being any such commandment. 

I wonder what this golf-playing brother would have said if I had pointed out that some "weaker brother" might think that golf was a sinful waste of time that should be spent on evangelism (which, I assure you, is a position held by some brother, somewhere).

 Actually, I don't have to wonder. I heard him once (bear in mind that he was more than a little fat), when he was preaching, say something like this, "Now, someone will say, 'But, Bro. *****, isn't gluttony a sin?' Well, yeah...but put a gluttonous man behind the wheel of a car, and he doesn't kill anybody."

 In other words, my sin (gluttony) isn't nearly as bad as your sin (having a drink). And therefore it's okay. Kind of. Can we stop talking about me now and get back to you?

 In all my life, I don't think I have ever actually been around someone who was convinced that smoking is morally wrong and was even slightly tempted to take it up by the knowledge that I smoked, let alone anyone who actually smoked because of my example. Same thing with drinking wine, and so forth. There might possibly have been one or two who, talking to me, became persuaded that smoking was not a sin, but that is not the same thing. If I persuade a man that smoking is not sinful and he subsequently takes it up, he is not violating his conscience. He has ceased to be a weaker brother, at least in that sense.

 I have been around people who didn't want me to smoke around them, and I respect that, and don't smoke around them. Of course I wouldn't do that. It's only common courtesy. But not smoke, on the specious theory that some brother, somewhere, might be led to smoke, despite his fervent conviction that smoking is a sin? Even if he can't see me? Even if he doesn't even know I exist? Not smoke, because someone thinks his convictions ought to be my obligations? I think much of Galatians was written because of similar thinking. 

Now, the last argument against smoking that I've heard from Christians is that it's poor stewardship. And I agree that it might be. It is certainly possible to waste money on tobacco and pipes. In fact, I have done it. But it doesn't follow that all money spent on pipes and tobacco is wasted money, any more than it follows that having pot roast instead of hamburger, or punch at Christmastime is wasted. To be wasted, the money would have to not be productive of more of some kind of good than holding onto it would have been, and I don't think that this can be said of a moderate use of tobacco. It is productive of solid relaxation (and don't forget that even Christ and the apostles went aside to rest), contemplation, and much solid thinking, and there is nothing wrong with any of those things. You could even argue that, for some people, it's productive of health (this is discussed elsewhere in this post).

 Ultimately, I think anyone who makes the "poor stewardship" argument immediately lays himself open to the charge of hypocrisy, for, rest assured, there is no one who spends his money so perfectly that someone else will not think he wastes some of it, somewhere. If you think my 24 ounces of tobacco per year is wasteful, please rest assured that I think all those stinking Twinkies you eat are more so, and so on. Examples could be multiplied easily.

 The reality is that scripture simply doesn't give Christians hard-and-fast rules about how to handle their money. It tells us to give generously, but doesn't give us a specific amount (No, the tithe is not commanded for Christians). It tells us that he who wastes is brother to him who destroys, but doesn't give us an exhaustive list of examples of what "waste" is. It tells us to give as we are led by God, and to give cheerfully. It tells us to work with our hands, so that we might have something to give to others. It tells us to pay our just obligations, and to pay our taxes, and to care for our families, and especially those of our own households. 

But tell us not to smoke a little, on the grounds that the money could be better spent elsewhere? It just doesn't say that, and I don't think anything it does say can be fairly stretched to imply it, and if it did, it would effectively reduce every Christian everywhere to rejecting expenditures on everything not strictly necessary to bare subsistence. Since hardly anyone makes such an attempt, I can't help but think that the reasoning of people who would prohibit smoking on such grounds is mighty darned selective. It appears to be a variant of my favorite "weaker brother's" reasoning, given above, only thusly: "my ways of wasting money aren't nearly as bad as your ways of wasting money. And therefore they're okay. Kind of. Can we stop talking about me now and get back to you?

 Let me sum up, and draw these rather jumbled thoughts together: Smoking is not said to be a sin anywhere in scripture, no matter how much you might try to torture certain passages to make it appear otherwise. It not only cannot legitimately be said to be "worldly," but even to make the attempt to say it is reveals that a person doesn't really understand what the Bible means by worldiness. In all my life, I don't think I've ever met anyone who actually smoked against his conscience because I, or someone else, smoked. I do not think that moderate smoking is necessarily poor stewardship. I do think that you should be loving towards people, and that obviously you shouldn't smoke around people, especially brothers and sisters in Christ, whom you are grievously upsetting by doing so. But I also think that suggesting that people shouldn't smoke at all, even around people who don't mind, or alone, on the grounds that some hypothetical brother somewhere might hear about it and succumb to temptation, or that it upsets the pastor of the church next door, even though he doesn't live on your block, is going way, way beyond the text and any reasonable interpretation thereof. I think that most people who think that smoking is a sin don't think that because of what the Bible says, but because that's what they've heard since they were kids and they've never bothered themselves to think much about it. I think that some people who say that smoking is a sin say so because they haven't the slightest desire to smoke, and it is therefore an easy "command" to obey, and to congratulate themselves on obeying.

And worst of all, I think that some--an awful lot, really--of people who insist on yapping at you about your smoking want nothing more than to be able to brag to someone, perhaps even just themselves, that they got you to change your evil ways. They want to, as Paul rather indelicately put it, "boast in your flesh." And I have about as much patience with that sort of thing as Paul did.

The Image of the Pipe Smoker/Why Might You Take Up Pipe Smoking?
I struggled a bit with this section. It is really kind of a messed-up assemblage of thoughts I had over a period of weeks and will likely read that way.

 Why talk about the image of the pipe smoker, how pipe smokers are perceived? It is because I think we have general images--archetypes is a word I do not like, as is stereotypes, but they might give you an idea of the sort of thing I am talking about--in our world for a reason. They do not just show up in our culture, or at least they do not all just show up in our culture. They are not all foisted on us by our mass media. More than a few of them reflect deep-seated attitudes, experience, and feelings of the heart that cannot always successfully be put into words. When you talk about the image of the pipe smoker, I think you gain some insight into what sort of person might like smoking a pipe, and indeed, even into what effect smoking a pipe might have on your personality. It might even give you some idea as to how you perceive yourself, what ideas and habits and traits you identify with.

 So many of my intellectual and literary heroes have been pipe smokers. Holmes, Gandalf, Twain, Tolkien, Lewis, Denis Nayland Smith. Einstein was a pipe smoker. John Adams was a pipe smoker. Matsumura Sokon was a pipe smoker. Why is that, you think? Again and again and again I have broached the subject of smoking with people, women included, and have been simply stunned at the number of people who despise cigarettes, but have little or no problem with the idea of someone smoking a pipe around them. Why is that, you think?

 Picture a pipe smoker. You may possibly picture some old gent from the hinterlands smoking a corn cob (and corn cobs actually provide quite a decent smoke), but my bet is that is not what you pictured. I would be willing to bet that you pictured a man, older, not given to rushed thought, or, perhaps, some famous thinker or poet or philosopher, or a theologian in his study, or perhaps just some graven and wise man. Maybe you pictured Santa Claus, but I would bet dollars to doughnuts that you did not picture a fool. You pictured someone with at least gravity, maturity, and patience. You pictured a man who thinks. Not for nothing is this old Peterson Pipe advertisement iconic.

I would be willing to bet that even a large number of people who've never considered smoking a pipe have seen it.

 Few picture a fool smoking a pipe, and I do not think it is a coincidence. People who insist on rushing through life often do not take well to a pipe, nor people who care to live life unexamined.

 A pipe smoker, as a rule, is not a dangerous man. Oh, he may be dangerous in the sense that Doug MacArthur was dangerous, or that a professional soldier is dangerous. But he is not a ruffian. No one sees a man smoking a pipe, any kind of pipe, and thinks to themselves I had better keep an eye on that guy. Cigarette smokers can easily appear to be ruffians. Cigar smokers, perhaps. You can easily picture a gangster smoking a stogie.

But a pipe smoker? A ruffian? Never. Even Josef Stalin didn't look like the murderous fiend he was when he was smoking his pipe. It was that pipe in his mouth that allowed Americans to think of him as "Uncle Joe," in spite of his bloodthirsty ways.

 In smoking terms, the cigarette is the emblem of--at its best--the working stiff or the military grunt, the hardworking average joe. At its worst, it is the emblem of the uneducated lowlife. The cigar is the emblem, the image, of the businessman striving for, or in possession of, success; it might evoke the general or the chief of state. The pipe, on the other hand, is the emblem of the patient man, the intellectually-minded man, the philosopher, the theologian, the sage. A patient man. An intelligent man, etc.

 But pretty much always a man. For the pipe and cigar smoker, far more so than for the cigarette smoker, the smoking world is a male world. The tobacconist's shop is a masculine realm, not unlike the old-fashioned barber shop. If it is decorated, and it often is, it is with masculine images: things related to the military, to hunting, to fishing, to rough-and-tumble sports. It is not that women are unwelcome there, but if you see one, you more or less take it for granted she is picking up something for her husband or father. Nor do women seem to object to this automatic mental classification.

 I remember the time, during a break in machine shop class (Yes, I have done a lot of different things in my life), when I was smoking a pipe out in the courtyard, and a lady asked for a light for her cigarette. She noted how much she admired the pipe, saying, "It's such a masculine habit."

 And she wasn't alone. Women often react very positively to a man smoking a pipe. They often do not like cigarettes at all, and they may think cigars stink, but they will often not only put up with a pipe, but openly admire it, even if the gentleman smoking it is smoking an English mixture that smells not at all like cherries or plums or chocolate (If you want a sweeter-smelling pipe tobacco, I have heard that Bob's Chocolate Flake is very good. And Lane Limited's 1Q is probably the best-selling aromatic tobacco sold in pipe shops.).

 Women--at least a lot of women--like masculine men. I have discussed this with female friends and acquaintances. It is not as though such women want to be made to feel helpless, like distressed damsels in the presence of knights in shining armor, but they definitely appreciate differences between the sexes, not just physical differences, but differences in interests, in attitudes, in bearing and habits. They appreciate them and they expect them, and they are often bitterly disappointed in what sometimes seems a relentlessly politically-correct drive toward a unisex world.

 When such women see a man smoking a pipe, they may perceive a gentle and thoughtful man, but very definitely a man, nonetheless. They like it, and are often not shy about telling you so.

 I do not mean to imply that pipe smoking by its nature is naturally a male activity, just that many, perhaps most, people see it that way. There are, of course, women pipe smokers. There is at least one active on Christian Pipesmokers. My own great- grandmother was one, from what I'm told. Curiously, it seems to me that of the women pipe smokers you run across (none save the one on Christian Pipesmokers mentioned just now are actually coming to mind, I have to admit, which ought to tell you something), most seem acutely feminine in spite of the pipe. I think that in addition to enjoying the pipe, they enjoy being around men who smoke pipes--again, because they like men. I am not saying they lust after them, mind you--just that they like them and appreciate them. If you take up a pipe, don't be surprised if the women in your life react a little differently to you. And if you are a woman contemplating taking up the pipe, please don't be discouraged by my commentary. It'll be okay.

 In closing this section, let me note that I have often thought that when people pick up the pipe and then drop it, it is because their personalities are all wrong for it, and they do not want to change. People have self-images and will consistently act in accordance with them. If you are contemplating taking up the pipe and this material just seems alien to how you think of yourself, I'd think some more. Pipe smoking may not be for you.

What Kind of Tobacco Should You Try?
Whilst I was preparing this post, someone asked me to recommend a couple of tobaccos, as he was interested in trying a pipe. The thing is, pipe tobaccos have an enormous variety, resulting from different strains of the leaf being grown in different parts of the world, under different conditions. How the tobacco is cured makes a difference. How it is cut makes a difference. How it is handled makes a difference. It may have casings (flavoring sauces) applied, or top dressings (something added chiefly for the sake of aroma). It may even be cooked!

 And then you start blending any or all of the above...

 I don't know what kind of tobacco you should try because I don't know what kind of palate you have. Think about the kinds of things you like to smell: Hickory smoke? Cake baking? Perfume? What do you like to taste? Coffee? Sweetened or the way God intended? With cream, or the way God intended? Fruit? Beer or wine? Chocolate? If you can answer questions like that, and you can talk to someone who's tried a wide variety of tobaccos, I think you stand a much better chance of getting hold of a tobacco you like. What I would suggest to start with--and here, your local tobacconist is invaluable--is going down to the tobacco shop and picking up an ounce each of his most popular aromatic and "English" blends, and adjust from there.

Think about it carefully. You will want to try several blends and maybe even go the length of taking notes. Tasting smoke is not unlike tasting wine. The flavor is considerably more complex than any non-smoker will ever give it credit for. If you peruse the internet for a while, or buy a book on pipes and pipe tobaccos, you will rapidly become acquainted with the different types of tobaccos--burleys, virginias, turkish, latakia, perique, flakes, plugs, and so forth--and taking notes will help you learn what you like.

 If you peruse the internet looking for guides to pipe tobaccos, it ain't like you can't find them.

 Personally, I tend to like what are often called "balkan" blends, uncased blends heavy on latakia and turkish tobaccos, with a little virginia and/or perique, and Cornell & Diehl's Star of the East is one of my favorites. I also like virginia flakes or plugs with a bit of perique, the classic Escudo being, in my opinion, pure tobacco gold. Lately I've been smoking a lot of Stokkebye's Luxury Navy Flake.

 You may think these are awful. You may be much better off with Bob's Chocolate Flake.

 Unfortunately, Escudo only comes in 50-gram tins and tends toward the pricey, so I am very much open to the possibility of finding a bulk tobacco much like it--and I'm told Anniversary Kake may fit the description.

 And all of that brings up the questions of tinned vs. "bulk" tobaccos and local tobacconists vs. online tobacco retailers. What's the difference? As regards the tinned vs. bulk tobaccos, as far as I can tell, mostly the tin. Until you open the tin, the tobacco within is going to remain okay for only God knows how long. With bulk tobaccos, you need to go to some minimal effort to make sure they don't dry out. Other than that, I really don't see that tinned tobaccos are any better in quality than bulk tobaccos. The difference in price--and tinned tobaccos do seem generally to be a bit pricier--seems to reflect the cost of tinning the stuff. Some might disagree. At least one person I've read suggested that the stuff in the tins has aged longer. Maybe it has. I don't know. But if that's the problem, you can solve it by aging what you want in your own air-tight jars.

 Bulk tobaccos are often available much cheaper in quantity. You might find that one ounce of a favorite blend is four bucks, but only 1.83 per ounce--if you buy sixteen ounces! I am speaking of online retailers here--you might find that your local tobacconist will make you the same sort of deal, and you wouldn't have to worry about shipping costs, just sales tax. You don't know 'til you ask.

 Some bulk blends--Full Virginia Flake comes to mind--seem to have acquired almost legendary status. I don't see that they take a back seat to tinned blends at all, and if you find one that you like, there seems no reason at all not to buy a pound of it and seal it up tight.

 Now: about the local tobacconist. I like him. More than that, I am profoundly grateful for him. In a way, the local tobacconist is a cultural icon. But I think he is going to have a very, very hard time competing with the online retailers, at least with established pipe smokers. You can just find so very many more blends online, service is very good, and prices are noticeably lower than brick-and-mortar establishments. Same thing with pipes--you can just find so very much more online, and there is a definite difference in price point. On the other hand, it's a little bit harder for Aunt Gertrude to go online shopping for a new pipe for her favorite nephew, and the local guy behind the counter can be a valuable reference, especially for the beginner. And often, very often, you can try a pipeful of a new blend for free before you go buying several ounces of the stuff. Try doing that online.

The Massive Resource that is YouTube 

 When I was last a pipe smoker, I was pretty much unaware of YouTube (Was it even around eleven years ago?), but for last two or three years, I have been telling people that you can learn almost anything you want to learn on YouTube. I have found and used videos on how to replace the water pump on our Dodge Caravan, videos on carburetor rebuilding, and so forth.

 So, soon after I resumed pipe smoking, I started hunting for pipe smoking videos and, sure enough, I found them. Some of them were useful--well, shoot, I suppose all of them would prove useful to someone. And there were some things that intrigued me about them. One or two of them were a little disturbing.

 One thing that was interesting was how people approached restoring or refurbishing "estate" pipes, that is, pipes that have been used. You can find used pipes all over E-Bay; you can also sometimes buy them at estate sales. I bought a few myself, back when I smoked pipes before.

 I must digress a moment to note that estate pipes can run the gamut in terms of how much they have been used. As I recall, the ones that I bought--including a Peterson "System" pipe and a Dunhill--seemed barely to have been used. This shouldn't be too surprising, I suppose. I wonder how many people try to quit smoking cigarettes via taking up a pipe, only to find that they haven't, and don't care to develop, the temperament necessary to really enjoy pipe smoking. When they finally have to make the choice between the quick nicotine hit from a hastily-smoked cigarette and smoking a pipe, which demands some attention, however little, they abandon the pipe and go back to the cigarettes. And there are the people who've been bought pipes by well-meaning wives and relatives trying to wean them off cigarettes. Some of them have apparently been pretty heavily used, and have absorbed--at least in the carbon build-up--"cake"--in the bowl, a lot of the oils and tars and stuff peculiar to the tobacco that's been smoked in it. I get the impression that some folks think this stuff actually gets into the wood, and I'm not prepared to rule it out, even though it seems like it would be difficult to me. People have developed quite an art to getting this gunk out of the old pipes and making the old stems shine again, and, since I have been buying my pipes via E-Bay, I was glad to get some tips, just in case some of the pipes I buy have been really heavily used.

 On the other hand, I kind of got the impression from some of these folks that--how should I put this?--they didn't really have any interests in life except for pipes. Not all of them were like that. At least one of them mentioned that he did a lot of swimming and kayaking. Still, I almost wondered about some of them. No doubt my impression was skewed by the fact that they were, after all, in the middle of doing videos on the subject, but I really began to think that pipe smoking was it for some of them. The fact that only one of them (the kayaker) looked reasonably fit did nothing to dispel that impression. They were all, with that one exception, thick (or more than a little thick) around the middle or young and (bluntly) scrawny and soft-looking.

 To me, this is weird. I realize that you could get the impression from this post that pipes and tobacco are all that's on my mind, but you have to take a few things into account. I haven't really looked at the subject in eleven years, I'm trying to acquire, at rock-bottom prices, a handful of pipes that will satisfy me for decades (and have spent a lot of time "shopping," via the internet), there's YOUTUBE, etc., and I wrote this post over a period of weeks and am trying, basically, to make it a one-stop to which I can refer people whenever they ask--okay, the likelihood is no one will ever ask, I admit it--what I think about pipes. The time is going to come, and shortly, when I'm basically just going to carry a pipe and tobacco around with me and smoke a half-bowl here and a quarter-bowl there when I get the chance, and a pipeful in the evening, and pipe smoking is going to be an adjunct and enhancement to the rest of my life, a blessing to be enjoyed, one of many, and not an all-consuming obsession. It sure as heck isn't going to make me give up...
Bible study
Prayer
Church
My basic exercise routine (calisthenics M-W-F and running T-Th-Sat) RyuTe (an extraordinary variety of Okinawan karate, if you don't want to follow the link)
Reading
Following politics
Listening to the Cardinals
Harassing my children
Cooking
Eating decently
Gardening
Maybe I can put some of this succinctly by saying that while I'm impressed with the appearance of "new" that can be given to old pipes, and with the depth of knowledge that people acquire regarding pipes and tobaccos, I find myself flabbergasted that some people have invested--as far as I can tell--in multiple buffing wheels, four grades of sandpaper, three grades of buffing compounds, waxes, etc., for the--again, as far as I can tell--sole purpose of restoring old pipes. I mean, jiminy, how many times are you going to do this? How many pipes can you smoke?

 To get back to the physical condition of some of these folks, I noted that one guy--Middle Eastern by looks and accent, from Turkey, perhaps?--who was obviously a researcher or biologist or something--talked about health and smoking and gave some perfectly good and reasonable advice. Yet I couldn't help but think, "Most of the guys doing these videos are fairly obviously not getting any significant exercise and God knows I wouldn't hazard a bet that their diets are decent; there's the biggest part of your problem."

 I also noted, with some amusement, that he was doing a video on health and smoking, but noted in passing that from his childhood, it seemed like all of his relatives smoked something--cigarettes, cigars, or pipes--and seemed to live just forever.

 Look, there's a lot of things that influence whether or not a given person gets cancer or heart disease, and so forth. I have talked about some of them elsewhere in this post. The only thing I wish to point out here is that it seems ludicrous to talk of how moderate pipe smoking isn't all that big a risk to your health when you are combining that small risk with a more-or-less complete failure to take care of your body in other respects. The human body is a marvelous mechanism and able to deal with a lot of pressure, so to speak, but how can it be a good idea to eat garbage and stay motionless and get fat and flabby (or spindly and flabby) and then top that off with several pipefuls of tobacco every day? Still, if there's something about pipe-smoking you want to learn, I say that YouTube is the way to go. If someone hasn't put up a video about it, you probably don't need to learn it.

Kinds of Pipes I Have Owned, What I Remember About Them, and What I've Learned

Jobey churchwarden: The Jobeys were decent pipes, American-made, if I recall correctly, of decent briar. Nothing spectacular, but then, they didn't charge a spectacular price, either. Decent-looking, decent-smoking pipes at reasonable prices. I think I had two or three Jobeys at one point, of which the churchwarden was the first. To this day, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend that someone looking for something like that to check out Jobeys on E-Bay. About the churchwarden specifically, let me just say, first, that it seems to me that just about everyone taking up the pipe picks up a churchwarden fairly early on. I know I did. I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it's that they read, or hear, that the length of the stem allows the smoke to cool down a bit by the time it hits your mouth. Perhaps it's the image, the I'm-sitting-in-the-rocking-chair-reading-the-classics-with-my- old-fashioned-looking-pipe image. I don't know. What I do recall is that the smoke, if it cooled, didn't cool enough to make any appreciable difference, and due to the length of the stem, as you smoke the pipe, the bowl of the pipe is rarely level; the result is that the tobacco tended to burn most, and hottest, on the side of the bowl closest to the smoker. You have to pay attention not to get an uneven burn. Perhaps a long bent stem would fix this problem, but I haven't looked at enough churchwardens to say how common such a thing is.

 I won't buy another churchwarden. It's not that they're bad pipes, it's that they don't suit me. My experience is that a decent blend of tobacco, decently packed into a decent, clean, broken-in pipe, will smoke just fine and you won't find yourself even slightly concerned with cooling it off anyway.

  Ropp Cherrywood: One of the things you will hear, or read, soon after getting into pipes is that a cherrywood pipe will, as the pipe warms, actually give off just the mildest aroma of cherry, or at least a little sweetness in the air. I never noticed it. That may just be me. In any event, I won't be buying another cherrywood. If you're interested, last I heard, Ropp was the name brand in the field.

  An allegedly repaired Dunhill poker: This was a used pipe I bought on E-Bay. You see, you can't go on the internet pipe forums for long without being convinced that eventually, you must try a Dunhill. New Dunhill pipes sell at prices that reflect either extraordinary smoking qualities and appearance or massive brand infatuation. The briar is oil-cured, as opposed to the air- cured briar most other makers use. Dunhill will not sell (at least under the Dunhill name) a pipe that has a less than superlative finish. The stems are hand-cut from vulcanite stock. You can quite easily pay five hundred simoleons for one, and it's not at all uncommon to see used ones go for two hundred, or even more, on E-Bay. I bought mine at a low price, it having been, according to the description, repaired somewhere in the shank. I never noticed a seam or anything that would indicate where the repair was, and part of me wonders if the thing had ever been broken.

 How did it look? It was quite an attractive pipe. How did it smoke? Just fine--but to be honest, I was quite unable to distinguish any significant difference between the "oil- cured" Dunhill briar and any of my other pipes.

 In short, if you are able to tell a difference and have the money, sure, buy Dunhills (but if you're that sort of smoker, you're probably not reading this blogpost anyway, are you?). Or, if you can get one on E-Bay at a low price, by all means, buy it. It does happen occasionally. But my bet is that most folks will not be able to tell a difference that justifies the expense of a new Dunhill, or even a used one. I will certainly never buy another, not unless I can get it for a song.

 Now, for what it's worth, Dunhill, like every other major maker, cannot sell every piece of briar that it handles under its flagship name. Some pieces of briar reveal flaws in the wood as it gets worked. If the flaw doesn't positively ruin the pipe, that pipe winds up being marketed under some other name. According to what I've read online, Dunhill says they don't do this, but again, according to the best of my limited internet research, the pipes sold under the name James Barber B-Line are Dunhill seconds. The stems, according to what I've read, are not hand-cut (do you care?), but, again, according to what I've read, they smoke just like Dunhills and at a fraction of the cost. I do know that they sure look like Dunhills, shape-and-finish-wise. I may well eventually pick one of these up. It's not a priority. I don't need that many pipes, you know? And the fact that you have to order them from England and pay for shipping and VAT complicates things a bit. Still--even with shipping and the VAT, they come out a little less than an entry-level Peterson...

 Some will also tell you that Parker pipes are Dunhill seconds. About that, I don't know. The Pipedia.org article tells you that Parker was started by Dunhill partly as a way to market "failed" Dunhills, but that over time, they grew into two separate lines and the Parkers, though made in the same factory as Dunhills, don't get all the special little treatments the Dunhills get and really can't be considered Dunhill seconds. You can speculate all you like, but I guess until you visit the Dunhill/Parker factory, you just don't know. I suspect that the factory has two separate streams of briar, with one being set aside for Dunhill's oil-curing process and the other probably air-cured, like the vast majority of manufacturers. I also suspect that the machinery used on both lines of pipes is substantially the same, and I suspect that the engineering would be substantially the same, with the result, on the whole, being that I suspect a Parker is basically an air-cured Dunhill with a lower-grade finish. Is it telling that one article said that the Parkers were often referred to as "working man's Dunhills"?

 But I don't know any of this. What I know is that if you poke around the web looking for information on Parker pipes, you will find plenty of people saying that they have one or two and that they smoke pretty well, some even saying they smoke as well as their Dunhills. And I know that as of this writing, I have a used one coming via E-Bay (all the way from Greece, if you can believe that!) and I will soon know for myself.

 One thing I'm being increasingly convinced of via my internet investigations: there have been a lot of pipe manufacturers either in England or doing business in England, and some of them have been bought and sold enough times that, except for Dunhill and Ashton, it can be hard to keep track of who's made pipes of what quality and when. But, that having been said, you can go to E-Bay and find lots of perfectly good English-made smokers at very reasonable prices. No, they're not all Dunhills, but, as I mentioned when talking about the Dunhill I used to have, it just didn't seem, apart from the finish, all that different from my other briar pipes anyway. Look for the Parkers, the Comoy's, the GBDs, the Barlings, the Ben Wades, the Charatans, and so forth. There's a very good chance that they will suit you just fine.

  a Comoy's full bent: I don't remember a whole lot about this pipe. I have the vaguest recollection that I was sometimes a bit aggravated with it, but for the life of me, I can't remember why.

  a Peterson rhodesian: This was my first Peterson. I bought it, frankly, not so much for Peterson's reputation as good-smoking pipes as because they are made in Ireland, and, being largely of Scots-Irish ancestry (with, I'm told, just a dab of Choctaw), I have something of an interest in things Irish. It was a fine smoker, and I wouldn't hesitate to buy one again. As a matter of fact, it was one of my four best smokers.

  a Peterson "system": I bought this one--or, more accurately, I bought the bowl--on E-Bay for a pittance, figuring I could get Ted's Pipe Shop to get me a stem, which they did, although I don't recall them being terribly excited about it. The Peterson System is, in some ways, legendary in the pipe world, and I recommend you read about it. I really question whether you are going to get a better smoke from any other pipe. Perhaps--but I wonder. The way the thing is built pretty much guarantees that you are going to get a nice, dry smoke. If you smoke English-style blends, this may not be such an issue; they tend, in my experience, to smoke fairly dry anyway, and unless you smoke a lot, I don't know that you need to concern yourself much with how "wet" they smoke, but aromatics are a different matter. With the various flavorings and additives in aromatics, a lot of moisture can be released as the tobacco burns, and you may well wish for something like the Peterson System if you don't have one. It was a really fine-smoking pipe,one of my four favorites.

  a Peterson bent bulldog: The memory of this pipe just stabs me to the heart; it was a gift from my parents, and after careful break-in, was one of my two best smokers, too. I loved that pipe and can hardly wait to get another one, when I can find one on E-Bay at a price I want to pay. By now, you've noticed that I've talked about three Peterson pipes in a row, and all three of them were among my four favorite smokers. Right now, I do not have any Petersons. Right now, I have two "Irish Seconds", a Savinelli, a Barling, and a Parker on the way. They are pretty good. I don't anticipate getting rid of any of them. But over the next couple of years, I will augment those four with a few Petersons, partly because I like the p-lip stems, partly because I like the way Petersons smoke, and partly because...well...I like Irish stuff...

  a Bari: This was a Danish pipe. Shaped somewhat like an egg. It was okay, I suppose. Just another briar pipe. I don't remember anything special about it.

  a Preben Holm: Time was, when the mania was for "freehand" pipes, pipes not carved according to more traditional shapes, but...well...kind of just where the pipe carvers imagination took him, that Preben Holm was one of the popular brands. Thought I had to have one. I had it for years, never really smoked it all that much. Frankly, it was just awkward. Pretty to look at, but awkward. As I've aged, I've gradually turned into a thoroughgoing traditionalist in most ways, and my taste in pipes is no exception. It's one of the reasons I like Petersons, as a matter of fact: they make more-or-less traditional shapes, smacking, in some cases, of a Sherlock Holmes-ian or Mark Twain-ian or vaguely Celtic sensibility.

  two meerschaums: You will, of course, be told that meerschaums provide an excellent, and, due to the natural porosity of the material, dry smoke. You will be told that they need no breaking in. You will be told that, treated carefully, the pipe will gradually "color," as the tars and such from the tobacco permeate the meerschaum. Well, it's true that they need no breaking in, at least to speak of, and yes, the pipe will color, if you smoke it enough, which I didn't. I didn't smoke either one of them all that much because they just weren't all that good. I had one, a Barling, that was already black, I guess because they had made it so at the factory. It was okay. I had another, a "normal" meerschaum, carved in the figure of some middle-eastern potentate's crowned head. I about halfway suspect that with meerschaum pipes, the carver is more concerned with how cool-looking a pipe he can make than about how it smokes. Also, it has to be noted that meerschaum breaks without much effort, and the cognoscenti tell me not to handle the bowl with a bare hand, at least while it's warm, so you might actually need to wear a glove while you're smoking the thing. Essentially, I'm saying that I suspect the meerschaum is a novelty item that you can safely ignore, but there are people that really like them. Each to his own.

  a calabash: Now, a calabash, on the other hand... If you don't know, a calabash is the pipe people often think of when thinking of Sherlock Holmes, though he is never recorded in any of the stories as having smoked one. It is made of a yellowish gourd, with a meerschaum (usually) bowl inserted and a pipestem at the other end. The resulting air chamber beneath the bowl is enormous, and if you want a cool smoke without the flavor loss associated with a water pipe, I'm not sure you could do better. On the other hand, they are usually a bulky, somewhat fragile pain in the butt to handle, and if you get one, in my opinion, it is an armchair-only pipe. If that's what you want, though, it's hard to knock them.

  a water pipe: People buy these, I suppose, because the smoke, going through the water, is cooled off to a remarkable degree. It is also rendered flavorless to a remarkable degree. Some folks try to remedy this by adding, say, wine to the water. In my opinion, it would be a waste of wine. I would never buy another one of these.

  a Bonacquisti poker: At the time, about twelve or so years ago, I think, I actually had 175 bucks (as I recall) to spend on this pipe. His prices have gone up, naturally, over the years, and I think you will have a pretty hard time finding anything on his site for less than 350 bucks. Having said all that, it was a superb smoker, with the most incredible sandblasted finish I have ever seen on any pipe. This is one of the pipes that I could kick myself for having thrown away. If I could afford it, I wouldn't hesitate to buy another Bonacquisti.

  a sandblasted Brebbia, almost like an Oom Paul: I really don't remember anything remarkable about this pipe. It had an enormous bowl, and I rarely smoked it.

  an actual Oom Paul, no-name, I think: Another one I rarely smoked.

  various "wall" pipes: "Wall" pipes are the no-name pipes that tobacco shops typically display affixed to the wall, rather than in the glass cases. Almost without exception, they are briar. I expect that most of them are rejected "stummels" (the not- quite-finished, machine-carved briar that eventually becomes the bowl and shank of a pipe) from well-known manufacturers, either sold to lesser-known manufacturers or finished at the big factory and labeled differently. They are often not bad, at least for the price. Stems tend to be a bit cheaper and of lower quality. Still, they are nothing to be sneezed at. They are certainly better than the Dr. Grabow-type pipes you would get at the drugstore. If you want to try a pipe but are not certain and don't want to spend a deal of money, these are not a bad option.

  a corncob: Corncobs, sometimes referred to as "Missouri Meerschaums," are probably the most remarkable "deal" in the pipe world. In my opinion, they actually provide quite a decent little smoke, and they are, at this writing, available for seven bucks or less. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend one for anyone wanting to try out a pipe without breaking the bank. They require little, if any, breaking in. Some folks say they can taste a little corn-sweetness as they smoke one. I've never noticed it. If there's a drawback to the things, it's that the construction is so cheap--hey, what do you expect for seven bucks?--that I have a hard time seeing how one could remain in regular use for more than a few months. Maybe you could get a year out of it? Maybe? This is compounded by the stem and shank being of cheap material that takes a little extra work to clean thoroughly. Also, as part of the overall cheapness of the things, you get a stem that is narrow to the point of being difficult to grip with your teeth. And, of course, anyone who sees you smoking one will immediately mock the dickens out of you for looking like Farmer Brown, and wonder why you aren't wearing your overalls. Still, truthfully, they're not a bad option. Years ago, there was a regular poster on one of the pipe smokers' newsgroups that smoked them as often as he smoked anything else. Oh, he smoked high-falutin' Dunhill tobaccos in 'em, but he smoked corncobs...

  two "Irish Seconds," one full bent, one straight apple: These are, basically, Petersons that weren't good enough to wear the "Peterson" label. You see, briar grows in tough conditions, and sometimes, say, when sanding, the maker will uncover a flaw in the briar that makes it unsalable, at least under his major label. At that point, he may may see if he can sell the stummel to another maker, or he can finish the pipe and sell it under another label. In Peterson's case, one of the labels is--or used to be, I am not sure they use it anymore--"Irish Seconds." If my experience with two pipes is any indication, Irish Seconds smoke pretty much like Petersons and the only drawback I can see is that none of the ones I've seen for sale on E-Bay has the famous Peterson "p-lip" stem, which is, in my opinion, a desirable feature. If you don't care about the "p-lip" stem, dollar for dollar, I'm not sure you could do better than buying Irish Seconds pipes on E-Bay. They may not be the most attractive of pipes, as they will likely have a pit here and there in the finish, but they should smoke just fine, and you shouldn't have to pay through the nose for them. I got one of the two I have for 20.50 and the other for 17.50, shipping included. Considering that a new Peterson is likely to cost you at least 85.00, taking shipping into account, and that people seem absurdly willing to overpay for old Petes on E-Bay, so that if you get a Pete there for less than 40 or 50 bucks, you have probably done well...well, the Irish Seconds start to look mighty attractive. Of course, any time you buy "estate," or used, pipes, you will probably have some clean-up to do. How much depends on how persnickety you are and what condition the pipe was in when it arrived.

  a Savinelli sandblasted "Prince of Wales": This was actually one of the first pipes I ever got. I didn't really learn how to smoke it for years. The bowl of a Prince of Wales is not as deep as some pipes, and, if this one was any indication, it's easy to pack it in such a way that it burns hot. Eventually I learned how to pack it better.

  a sandblasted Savinelli billiard: I'm not sure what happened to this pipe. I remember it being very attractive and nice to smoke, but I think I broke the stem on it and I'm not sure whether I ever replaced it. A pity.

  a sandblasted or rusticated (it's hard to tell sometimes!) Savinelli poker: This was an E-Bay buy. I always liked pokers, and I always liked sandblasted pipes. This one looked good, except for the stem, which needed cleaning, and I managed to get it for what, for any decent Savinelli, was a remarkably low price. Believe me, I wish I had that kind of luck every time I bid on something. Most of the time, I lose the auction because I'm not willing to pay through the nose for a used item. Savinelli makes a lot of pipes, running the gamut from "wall" pipes to their "autograph" pipes, which are often very beautiful; I had the opportunity to, shall we say, "guest-smoke" an autograph once, many years ago. It was a beautiful-smoking pipe, simply lovely, and if you like the styling, I wouldn't have any hesitation in recommending the autograph line to you. But the other Savinelli lines, in my experience, smoke pretty well, too, and you may well be able to pick up half a dozen perfectly decent Savinellis for your collection for under two hundred bucks--maybe well under two hundred bucks. For what it's worth, I'm told that pipes marked "Estella" are autograph seconds.

  a sandblasted Barling bulldog: This was another E-Bay buy. The pictures looked beautiful; I like sandblasted pipes, and I like bulldogs and bent bulldogs. And I was mildly intrigued: if you look at the history of Barling pipes, they were once considered among the finest pipes made. Then the company was sold, and their reputation took a sharp plunge for a while, and, as far as I can tell, they have been gradually climbing back up the "quality pipe" ladder for some little time. If this pipe is any indication, they are now solidly in the ranks of decent, if not spectacular, pipes. I like the sandblasting on this pipe. I like the grain. It is very light. The stem is made of something other than vulcanite and I don't like it as much as I would a vulcanite stem, but it's okay. It smoked Star of the East very nicely, and virginia flake pretty well, but didn't do so hot with "Cairo," which seems to me to smoke a bit hot in some pipes. Remarkably, I was the only bidder and got it for a song.

  a clay pipe: This was one of those little white clay pipes that used to be produced by the bajillions in England. So cheap back then that you could smoke them for a little while and then toss them in the fireplace. They actually provide a tolerable smoke, but the bowl is nuclear-hot to the touch. At least mine was. If you feel compelled to get one, mount on the wall as a decoration.

  THE UPSHOT FROM MY EXPERIENCE AND IN MY OPINION: If you're a beginning pipe smoker, this is what you wanted to know, right? Well, here it is: Briar rules. It provides a good smoke and makes a durable pipe and is often beautiful to look at. It is not too heavy. Like all other woods, it comes in various grades, with the cheapest, as far as I can tell, winding up in Dr. Grabow-type drugstore pipes. It does seem to me that you rapidly reach a point of diminishing returns, in that I don't know that the briar used in, say, a hundred-dollar Peterson is that much better than the briar in a fifty-dollar "wall" pipe and I would certainly question whether the briar in a 500-dollar Dunhill is that much better than the briar in a 100-dollar Peterson. God knows I would rate any of the Petersons I used to own more highly than the one Dunhill I had, at least in terms of smoking quality.

 I really do think that a lot of the cost of the very high-grade pipes comes down to how pretty the grain and the finish are, and also to brand infatuation. Engineering is probably the single most important factor in how a pipe smokes. The relationship of the bore-hole through the pipe stem and shank to the bowl, and so forth. This is not to say that there is necessarily a "best" engineering scenario, though I have seen at least one guy on YouTube swear up and down that having a big bore-hole made all the difference in the world. If you're interested, he noted that Ser Jacopo pipes were noted for big bore-holes.

 Personally, I expect that due to small differences in the way people pack and puff on their pipes, and differences in tobacco preference, and so forth, some brands will suit some smokers and other brands will suit other smokers. So you could easily say that it's engineering and technique, really, that are the most important factors in how a pipe smokes. Let me reiterate that: in my opinion, engineering and technique are the most important factors in your smoke.

 I don't give a rip how much you pay for a pipe, what the quality of the briar is, and so forth, if you can't pack a pipe for beans, you're not going to get a good smoke. If the pipe is made of decent briar, not the really soft stuff they seem to use for Dr. Grabow-type drugstore pipes, and the holes are drilled right, it should at least smoke half-way decently. I am dead certain that there are sloppy, inattentive smokers out there getting crappy smokes from their five-hundred-dollar Ashtons and Dunhills (though they might never admit to it!), and I am dead certain that there are plenty of folks who are, right now, parlaying good tobacco, attentive packing and puffing, and a none-too-expensive Barling pipe into a satisfying smoke. Folks like me.

 If you want a cheap pipe, for whatever reason, and God knows I don't blame you, money is tight in the Man of the West household, too, I don't think you can do better than a corncob. Buy a pair and don't be ashamed of them.

 For most people, I think churchwardens, meerschaums, calabashes, water pipes, and so on, are wastes of money. Sandblasted and rusticated pipes are sometimes said to smoke a little cooler, due to the increased surface area, but if it really makes a difference, I haven't noticed it. I like sandblasts, though. I think they look cool. The deeper, the better. Paul Bonacquisti makes some of the most amazing sandblasts I've ever seen. A lot of the sandblasted Ashtons are like that, too. But for those, you will pay. Boy howdy, will you pay... 

Some folks have certain pipes dedicated to certain tobaccos. I don't go that far, except that I try to keep my smaller-bowled pipes for flakes. This is for no reason other than that the flakes tend to smoke longer/burn slower than the balkan mixtures, and I don't often have ninety minutes to sit out on the porch with a big pipe full of Virginia flake.

Tobacco Storage
Short-term tobacco storage--and by "short-term," I mean, basically, less than a year--is easy enough, at least here in Northeastern Oklahoma. I suppose it may be more of an issue in some parts of the country with dramatically different weather--hotter, colder, wetter, dryer, whatever. But here, it is no problem. I had a half-pound of tobacco in a perfectly ordinary humidor at one point, and just moistened the little clay disk in the lid every so often, and I had no trouble with the tobacco for the longest time. I can't remember whether or not I ever smoked all of that particular blend up, but the point is, the tobacco was okay. It didn't mold, it didn't dry out. 

I am pretty sure that you could keep relatively small amounts of different tobaccos in used food jars, maybe with a humidifier disk--these are available from tobacconists for a pittance--in them, and they would do every bit as good a job as a humidor. If you don't want your tobacco to taste a bit like peanut butter (maybe you do, for all I know), I would suggest scrubbing the jar and lid out thoroughly, and throwing some baking soda in there while they're still wet, and shaking the whole assemblage up and down to coat the inner surfaces. Let it sit for a day and then rinse the baking soda out, and let the thing air dry, and I am pretty sure any food odors will vanish along with the baking soda. Right now, I have some "Luxury Navy Flake" sitting in such a peanut-butter jar, with some plumber's teflon tape around the threads. It's air-tight, believe me. I also have some half-pint mason jars in which I'm keeping some "Cairo," some "Star of the East," some kind of McClelland virginia flake, and some "Dubliner" from the local tobacconist.

 Long-term storage--storing your tobacco for years to come--is more of an issue, one that I am sure would have been considered absurd to even bring up, save by the most fanatical of smokers, up until relatively recently. Why keep tobacco for years and years and years? People who have done it will tell you that tobacco continues to improve as it ages, and I have no doubt they are right, but still--why do it, when you can always pop down to your tobacconist, like you and your ancestors have done for a few hundred years? Or when you can always order what you want online?

 I hate to say it, but the only appropriate response in this day and age is: can you ask? Tobacco has, over the last fifty years or so, become a demonized product. Never--at least so far--demonized to the point of being outlawed, but sufficiently demonized that it is one of the few products for which almost any absurd tax and regulation will not be seriously fought. Nobody in any legislature, save, perhaps, in tobacco-producing states, wants to be seen as being on the side of tobacco. I honestly think you will be taken more seriously if you propose legalizing marijuana than if you suggest that tobacco is already taxed and regulated enough. 

Cigarettes have been heavily taxed for years. Some people therefore took to roll-your-own shops, where you could buy cigarette tobacco in bulk, and papers, and use the store's rolling machines, and roll your own more cheaply. Recent legislation has put these shops out of business--whether by directly outlawing them or by taxing bulk cigarette tobacco to the point where there were no more savings to be had by rolling your own, I don't recall. But you can rest assured that the goal was to force people to buy heavily-taxed cigarettes. I would suggest to you that government cares not at all whether or not people quit smoking. What government cares about, what it always cares about, is revenue (which finances the purchase of power), and the theory seems to be that if you can demonize tobacco but not outlaw it, you can tax it at absurd levels and tobacco users will pay the tax and have no recourse at the polls, being, now, a significant minority and consumers of a product that is said to be wrecking the health of everyone in the country and that of their dogs, too.

 At any rate, soon after this--the destruction of the roll-your-own cigarette shops--took place, pipe tobacco sales went through the roof. Apparently people realized they could buy lower-taxed pipe tobacco and roll cigarettes out of them. Also, some of the cigarette-tobacco manufacturers just re-labeled their product "pipe tobacco." How long do you think it will be before they start taxing the mess out of pipe tobacco? Remember, the goal here is revenue. They will almost certainly do whatever is necessary to steer people toward highly-taxed products--or just tax the mess out of everything. I have even heard that bans on internet sales to individuals have been suggested. That extraordinary levels of taxation and bans of any sort will only create a black market is lost on people in government.

 So now, please believe me, long-term storage of pipe tobacco has become an issue. You can find videos--and not a few--on YouTube on "cellaring tobacco." Some people seem to have more experience with this than others, and God knows I haven't any. But the consensus seems to be that the main thing is to make whatever container you store your tobacco in air-tight. One person stated a concern that the aromatic tobacco he was storing not turn into "particle-board" over the years, so he wasn't packing it into jars too tightly. Nobody seemed to have that concern with "English"-style tobaccos, as, obviously, they haven't been drenched with flavoring syrups. Some people ran the mason jars in which they were storing tobacco through the dishwasher, or boiled them, in order to sanitize them. Some didn't. One person said that in his part of the country, mold was a concern and he was trying to eliminate mold spores, I guess. How air-tight are the mason jars, when lidded and ringed? I cannot say from personal experience. I am sure you could put them through a pressure canner and make them as air- tight as any other home-canned product, but I question whether cooking your tobacco in that manner is a smart idea!

 Only one of the videos on the subject gave me the impression that the man behind it had been doing this for any length of time, and he seemed to be satisfied that he could just throw tobacco in a mason jar, add the lid and ring, tighten it down, and it would be good for years, though he never stated outright just how long he'd been doing it. Still, it seemed to be a long-standing practice of his to take tobacco that he'd bought, tried, found he wasn't really interested in at that time, and throw it in a small canning jar for long-term storage. He seemed utterly unconcerned that it would dry out, so you can take that for what it's worth.

 It seems to me that he's right; let's say that you bought a tin of Dunhill "Early Morning Pipe," just to try it out, and realized that you might not be in the mood for it all that often. Throwing into a jelly-size jar with a sealing ring would certainly keep it from drying out months longer than just keeping it in the original tin would. Another video-maker showed how, once the lid and ring had been put on and tightened, once the ring had been removed (which you would not do, 'til it was time to get the tobacco out), he actually had to pry the lid off with a fingernail, making an obvious popping sound in the process, which, to my mind, clearly indicated that the seal on the ring was pretty good in spite of not actually having been through the pressure-canning process. I have since had that experience myself, every time I open one of my half-pint mason jars.

 I don't know. I do know that, God willing, I will soon start buying about a pound of tobacco a month and jarring it up for years-long storage. If they jack up the taxes, I will save a bundle. If they don't jack up the taxes--well, aging improves tobacco anyway. This is the procedure I plan on using. First, I will boil, and let air dry, as many mason jars, lids, and rings as I think I might be likely to use. This might not be, strictly speaking, a necessary step, but one fellow's point was well-taken: considering that we are talking about, potentially, storing this tobacco for years, is a few minutes extra effort really too much? Then I will gently melt, and keep melted, some paraffin wax. I will have a small paint brush handy, and some plumber's teflon tape, and some waxed paper. I will pack the tobacco in as tightly as I can without actually squeezing the dickens out of it, leaving just a small space at the top. Atop this will go a piece of waxed paper, big enough that when spread out with my fingers, it pretty well covers the surface of the tobacco. Then I'll put the lid on the jar. Then I will wrap some of the teflon tape on the jar threads and screw on the ring. Then I will take the paint brush, turn the jar upside down, and "paint" some wax under the ring, between the bottom of the ring and the jar. When that cools, which should take but a very few seconds, I will turn the jar right-side up and "paint" a little wax around the top of the jar, along the inboard edge of the ring, contacting both the ring's edge and the jar lid. That way, I seriously doubt that any tobacco will be contaminated with wax (and if it is, it will be but a smidgeon, and what's a smidgeon compared to the half-pound of tobacco?), and, friends, it that arrangement doesn't prove to be air-tight for years at a whack, I'm not sure what will.

 Come to think of it, it strikes me, even as I write, that the wax-and-teflon-tape is likely to be so effective that having the "mason" jars and lids might not be necessary at all. It strikes me that food jars--and friends, we go through about one large jar of Smucker's natural peanut butter a week in this household--would, if treated in the fashion I mentioned above for short-term storage, would be just fine: the tape and the wax would render the assembly as air-tight as it needs to get.

 I'm not sure I would want to boil them, though. They are not made of tempered glass. Perhaps I could dip them? I don't know. There's really only one way to settle it: experimentation, which I will undertake shortly.

 But, mason jars or peanut-butter jars, I am going to start doing it as quickly as I can. As of this writing, three tobaccos have recently arrived from Smoking Pipes.com: a little "Star of the East" bulk tobacco from Cornell & Diehl, some Luxury Navy Flake from Peter Stokkebye, and a small tin of Greg Pease's "Cairo."

Now, the Cairo is one thing. It is tinned. I am sure you could order tin after tin of the stuff, and as the tins are air-tight 'til you open them, it'd probably be good for as long as you wanted. But on the other hand, even in the bigger tins, the stuff is four dollars an ounce. Not a dramatic expense, you might say, if you're smoking about two ounces a month (which seems to be the pace I'm on), but every dollar counts, right? "Star of the East" and "Luxury Navy Flake," on the other hand, as I said, are bulk tobaccos and come in plastic bags. In quantity, it looks like I can get them for as little as 1.83 an ounce. They are pretty good, very much to my taste, and you can rest assured that I will start ordering them by the pound as quickly as overtime and good common sense (I do have other things to do with overtime money, after all) allow. And I will start jarring it up and putting it at the back of the closet, hopefully securing at least a couple of years' supply before whatever administration comes to power decides to jack taxes up through the roof, or bans internet sales altogether. 53 pounds of tobacco ought to see me through 'til my death at the statistically likely age of 85. Check back with me in ten years to see how my preservation methods worked.

A Few Useful Websites
There are many others, of course, but you may want to look at these first. The first two give, among other things, the names under which certain manufacturers have marketed either seconds, or another line of pipes. The others are just, for lack of a better word, handy, except for Christianpipesmokers.net, which provides a handy little forum for all sorts of discussions.
  pipephil.eu
Pipedia.org
  Christianpipesmokers.net
  Forces
  Smokingpipes.com
  Cupojoes.com

9 comments:

  1. Just a note...I have a so-so palate, I'm still learning to pack and tamp properly, and I sometimes go through a box of matches just to smoke one bowl, especially if I'm talking.

    However, the one artisan-made pipe I have (it's a Nate King, as it happens) is a dramatically better smoke than my Parker or the others. It has a nice loose draw, it stays lit a little easier, doesn't gurgle like the Parker, it seems to stay cooler, and the bit is MUCH more comfortable. In my opinion, for a handful of reasons, I'd rather have a small selection of high-quality pipes than a huge rotation of poor-quality pipes.

    I did a little write-up on a few of the reasons to choose an artisan pipe, and Nate posted it on his blog: http://www.natekingpipes.com/2012/10/1082/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, I agree. If I could afford a collection of Bonacquistis, I'd do it in a heartbeat. And I loved my old Petes; I really do think that any one of them smoked as well as the Bonacquisti, but none of them could match that incredible sandblast.

    Hey! You're that lady! That pipe lady! :)

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