A Pipe Smoking Primer (Pipe Smoking 101)
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from AoM reader Jason Mills.
I can remember visiting my best friend when I was younger. It was fun to get together and have adventures like boys do, but one thing I really, really liked was his dad. His dad was an old farm man and looked like it from the weather-beaten lines on his face to his calloused hands. He was quiet spoken and loved smoking his pipe. Since my dad was a non-smoker, this fact really intrigued me as a young boy. I’d see him lighting up and smoking his pipe in complete happiness. He always smelled like pipe tobacco (Sir Walter Raleigh) and now, whenever I smell that brand, I always think of him.
Maybe you had a grandpa who was like my friend’s dad. Maybe you saw him smoking his pipe in quiet contentment and enjoyed that manly smell as I did. Maybe you’ve never known a man who smoked a pipe, so you don’t know what I’m talking about. Either way it doesn’t change the fact that pipe smoking is a manly art.
Why? Well, pipe smoking is as much ritual as it is relaxation. There’s a certain satisfaction you get when you pack the tobacco into the bowl just right. Then, the whoosh of the match followed by that wonderful, aromatic smell. Smoke a pipe with one of your favorite cocktails (maybe an Old Fashioned or a Martini) in the comfort of your favorite armchair, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect evening.
Pipe? Check. Man chair? Check. Grab the sports section and you’ve got the perfect evening ahead of you.
Even in cinema from the 1930s and 1940s, oftentimes you’ll see men with a pipe in their mouths. Movies like The Quiet Man, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and even It’s a Wonderful Life find men of all stripes smoking their pipes. Today, men who smoke a pipe are taking part in a manly ritual that stretches back to the dawn of time and has continued unbroken to the present. Convinced? Then let’s get started.
Since this article is for newbies, I don’t want you to go broke trying something you may not like. So, I’ve provided a list of the minimum items you need to start. When I first started smoking a pipe, I paid $12 for all of my stuff, but prices may vary in your area. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A pipe. I recommend starting with a corn cob pipe. Yeah I know it sounds corny (no pun intended) but they’re cheap (mine was $4) and if you find you don’t like smoking a pipe, just toss it with little out of your pocket.
- Pipe tamper/tool. Although not absolutely necessary, this is very helpful in packing the tobacco. Mine was $3 and was a combo tamper/cleaner.
- Pipe cleaners. Obviously for cleaning your pipe when you’re finished. Most tobaccoists will gladly provide you with a handful at no charge
- Wooden Matches or a pipe lighter.
- Tobacco. This is where a knowledgeable tobacconist is HIGHLY needed. Tobacco comes in a variety of flavors and strengths. I recommend starting out with a blended flavor. The one I started with is called Almost Heaven and is a vanilla flavored tobacco. My tobaccoist sold me a 3 oz sample pouch for about $5.
Once you have all this, you can get started.
How to Smoke a Pipe
“I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.” -Albert Einstein
To start with, smoking a pipe is a leisurely activity. I’d recommend setting aside at least 20 minutes. That’s one of the reasons pipe smoking is so enjoyable. It lets you take some time to slow down. Again, make yourself one of the 5 Classic Cocktails Every Man Should Know, grab your pipe and tobacco, and take a seat on the porch to enjoy the evening. Now you’re really ready to begin.
1. Fill the bowl of your pipe. This step is the most difficult to master, but it affects the rest of your smoke. Fill the bowl loosely with tobacco and press it lightly down with the tamper. The bowl should now be filled halfway from the bottom. Fill the bowl again to the top and compress a bit more, packing more firmly. Now your bowl is about 3/4 full. Now top off the bowl with more tobacco and press down. There should be a slight space between the top of the bowl and the tobacco.
2. Put the pipe to your mouth and take a test draw. If air doesn’t flow freely through the tobacco, it’s too tight. If that’s the case, remove and try again. If your test draw is fine, you’re ready to light.
3. When lighting your pipe, use a wooden match or pipe lighter. I recommend wooden matches because they’re cheaper. Pipe lighters are made specifically for tobacco pipes and don’t alter the taste of the tobacco. If using a match, strike it and let it burn for a few seconds to get the sulphur off. Then, as you take gentle draws on the pipe, move the match in a circular movement over the surface of the tobacco. Do this until the tobacco is evenly lit. Once it’s lit, you’re still not quite there. This is simply the “false light.” Let it go out, then relight the same way. Once it’s evenly lit, this is the “true light” and you’re ready to smoke. Note: It is suggested that you NOT inhale the smoke into your lungs. Pipe smoking is different than cigarette smoking. This type of tobacco is a bit stronger and is more for the flavor.
4. Take it easy when smoking your pipe. Slow and steady, this is a marathon, not a 50 yard dash. If you puff too quickly, you’ll get what’s known as “tongue bite”– a burning sensation on your tongue. Definitely not what you want. Your pipe may go out 2 or 3 times during your smoke, but that’s OK. Remember, relax and enjoy. If you have a friend over, your pipe may go out more often as you talk! Enjoy the flavor of the tobacco.
That’s all there is to it. If you enjoy your first and subsequent smokes, you can buy the more expensive pipes and tobaccos. Who knows, there may be another article on the types of pipes and tobaccos in the future.
Some Other Tips
- If you find that the pipe starts “gurgling,” there’s too much moisture in the pipe stem. Simply take the pipe out of your mouth and put a pipe cleaner in the end for a second or two to remove the moisture. Try to keep your mouth as dry as possible to prevent this from happening.
- If the pipe gets too hot on your hand, let it go out and then relight. If it’s burning too hot, it can alter the taste of the tobacco.
- When finished with your smoke, always allow the pipe to cool before cleaning.
Editor’s note: If you’re intrigued by the idea of pipe smoking but for a variety of reasons want to avoid tobacco, you may wish to look into trying an e-pipe. E-pipes are electronic pipes that produce a vapor-like smoke but don’t contain tobacco. You can control the level of nicotine in the vapor from high to none at all. It’s a far cry from real pipe smoking, but an interesting alternative.
Pipe smoking is as much ritual as it is relaxation. Here's how to do it right.
The Hazards of Using Pipe Tobacco
Armeen Poor, MD, is a board-certified pulmonologist and intensivist. He specializes in pulmonary health, critical care, and sleep medicine.
Smoking tobacco out of a pipe has been a worldwide practice for centuries. Historically, pipes were used in ceremonies with the practice gradually gaining mainstream popularity over the years as an accepted way to smoke tobacco. Shops sprang up that catered to pipe (and often cigar) smokers. Flavored blends sold in bulk could be sampled right on the premises in smoke rooms set up for patrons.
Pipe smoking has been dwindling in use since the 1960s but is still favored by a small percentage (approximately 2%) of smokers in the United States today, especially older men. Pipe smoking is still common in Sweden, where as many as one-quarter of adult males smoke a pipe.
Pipe Tobacco Ingredients
Pipe tobacco is loose-leaf tobacco most commonly grown in northern middle Tennessee, western Kentucky, and Virginia. It is fire-cured, which involves slowly smoking the drying tobacco leaves over a smoldering hardwood fire inside of a barn or structure.
The process can take days to weeks, and the end result is a tobacco that is low in sugar and high in nicotine. Most pipe tobacco is aromatic, having had a flavoring added to the finished product that gives it a depth and richness in taste and smell.
Pipe tobacco is addictive. An average pipe bowl contains 1–3 grams of tobacco, with the nicotine level per gram averaging 30–50 milligrams. Smokers don’t tend to inhale pipe smoke as much as cigarette smokers, but some nicotine still reaches the bloodstream after being absorbed through the lining of the mouth.
You might think that because most pipe smokers don’t inhale, the health risks are minimal. While there isn’t a lot of scientific data on the health effects of pipe smoking, we do know that there are risks.
Pipe smoking is associated with a number of illnesses that are common in cigar and cigarette smokers. For instance, pipe smokers face an elevated risk of cancers of the mouth, including the tongue, larynx, and throat. Smokers who inhale pipe smoke also have an elevated risk of lung, pancreatic, and bladder cancer.
Pipe smokers face an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While cigarette smoking is usually the main cause of COPD, other forms of tobacco like pipe-smoking and cigars can also result in tobacco smoke inhalation and damage to delicate lung tissue.
People who smoke pipes might face an elevated risk of death from heart disease, especially those who inhale the smoke. More research needs to be done in this area.
Health Risk Comparison
You might wonder how smoking a pipe compares to other types of smoking in terms of health risks. There is data comparing pipe use to cigarette and hookah use.
Researchers who have looked at health risk differences between the pipe smoking and cigarettes have concluded that they both carry essentially the same risks for early death from a number of diseases that can be linked to tobacco including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Ischaemic heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Various other smoking-related cancers
The only appreciable difference between the two forms of tobacco use is method and frequency of use. Pipe smokers tend not to inhale (as much) as cigarette smokers, and they smoke less often during the course of a day.
Starting with the knowledge that both hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco are hazardous to health, let’s take a look at the differences between the two.
Amount and Frequency
A hookah pipe bowl can contain 10–15 grams of tobacco, while most regular pipe bowls hold 1–3 grams of tobacco. Hookah is typically smoked at a hookah lounge or in a social setting, so hookah smokers might only smoke once every few days or once a week. Pipe smokers also smoke infrequently, but many light up a pipe once (or a few times) a day.
A hookah session can lasts 45 minutes to an hour, with smokers inhaling as much as 10mg of nicotine from the 300mg to 750mg of nicotine in the tobacco. A bowl of pipe tobacco is smaller and smokers don’t inhale as much, so getting an accurate measure of nicotine absorption is difficult. However, a 3-gram bowl of tobacco with 150mg of nicotine can deliver a small amount of nicotine into the bloodstream.
All tobacco products contain a number of toxins that come from a variety of sources: pesticides in the field, additives, and chemical changes that occur when tobacco with additives are burned. Tar, arsenic, carbon monoxide, and polonium-210 are just a few of the chemicals that are harmful to human health in tobacco smoke.
To date, upwards of 250 poisonous chemicals and 70 carcinogenic compounds have been identified in tobacco and tobacco smoke.
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extended a rule that gives the FDA regulatory authority over all tobacco products, including pipe tobacco. The manufacture, packaging, and labeling of all tobacco products must meet FDA guidelines, as well as how products are advertised, promoted, sold and even imported.
As of Dec. 20, 2019, the legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.
The FDA also has authority over components used with tobacco products. In this case, that would mean the pipes used to smoke the tobacco.
All newly regulated tobacco products in the U.S. are required to include the following warning label on packaging: “WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”
If the manufacturer submits a self-certification form to the FDA, along with proof that their newly regulated product is nicotine-free, then the required label will read: “This product is made from tobacco.”
Ultimately, federal regulation over tobacco products helps to protect consumers. While all tobacco products are hazardous to health, FDA guidelines are meant to ensure that manufacturers are not able to secretly manipulate tobacco recipes in ways that could cause more harm than they already do.
A Word From Verywell
It has been well documented that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. This is true regardless of the form tobacco comes in. Smokers and non-smokers all face risks to their health when breathing in tobacco smoke. If you are a smoker who is trying to find a “healthier” alternative to cigarettes, know that the only good choice is to wean yourself off of tobacco entirely.
There are a number of ways to quit successfully. Nicotine addiction is enslaving, and quitting is difficult, but it’s possible to do the work now to quit and shed the limits addiction puts on your life. Others have done it and you can, too.
Is pipe smoking a healthier way to use tobacco than smoking cigarettes? Learn about the risks associated with pipe smoking.