Pipe Smoking in Decline? About to be Snuffed Out?
Last month I read an article about a dwindling group of pipe smokers in India. They belonged to a once thriving pipe smoking club whose numbers had been slashed like prices during a Walmart Rollback sale. The article talked about the general loss of interest in the hobby but failed to give more in-depth reasons. Although, they did reference the lack of new Sherlock Holmes episodes from the BBC. So, to find out if there is any truth to the notion that pipe smoking is in decline, I decided to visit my local tobacconist and talk to a few of the customers.
When I got to the shop, I immediately noticed that of the seven men sitting in the lounge, none of them were smoking pipes. The owner of the shop, who is in the briar brotherhood, was the only guy puffing a pipe. I asked the guys in the lounge if they would mind participating in an informal survey, and surprisingly all but one, agreed.
So, here is a summary of what we discussed and what I learned from them. Of the six men interviewed, the youngest was 23, and the oldest was 62. The others were in their 30's and 40's. Only, 2 of the six guys had ever tried a pipe. Both guys who had tried a pipe only lasted a month or so before giving up.
I was curious why these two guys gave up so quickly. Both explained that they found it inconvenient (smoking a pipe required too much preparation and work) and that they had difficulty keeping the pipe lit. One of them said that they did not get any flavors out of the pipe, while the other said he did get good flavors but just couldn't keep it lit long enough to make it worth the effort. Both had tried aromatic tobaccos.
That left me with the four who had never desired to try a pipe. I could understand why someone might try a pipe and then quit (because there is a learning curve and you must be committed), but why would someone not even have a desire to try pipe smoking? Now it was time to put on my detective hat (which by the way, I do have) and get to the bottom of this. Perhaps, I would learn why that news article claimed that pipe smoking was in decline.
The men shared the same reasons why they never had a desire to smoke a pipe. First, they felt that it was for old men (that one hurt!). Next, they said it was too much work and required too many things. One guy said he didn't want to work that hard to enjoy tobacco. Finally, they agreed that pipe smoking just wasn't "hip" or cool. (Ugh! Another blow right in the bread basket).
I thanked them for their time and honest input and went to purchase a few blends for my "uncool," "old man" pipe. As I opened the jars and let the smell of the tobaccos waft into my face and nose, I happened to glance over at the tobacconist. He was ever so carefully rubbing out some tobacco and packing his pipe. After a few minutes, his bowl was full. He studied it and gently tamped it down. Then he took out a match and struck it on a flint until it blazed brightly. He waited for the sulfur to burn off, and then, with the pipe clenched in his teeth, lightly applied the flame to the tobacco and puffed. A moment later, smoke billowed from the pipe, and he cleaned up some renegade tobacco from the tabletop and smiled.
So, in a sense, the guys I interviewed made some valid points. Pipe smoking is a process. It is time-consuming and it does take work. For me, that is what makes pipe smoking amazing. The entire process is part of the act of smoking a pipe. It is the ritual that is hundreds of years old. It is a historical practice, one which I love.
After making my purchase, I thanked the tobacconist for all he has done for the pipe smoking community, and I went to pack my pipe. But, what about my quest to get to the bottom of the statement raised in that article? The following is my takeaway.
Pipe smoking could easily become a lost art. It does require commitment and practice. It requires steadfastness to persevere through the first few months or even the first year. It is historic (not old) and is rooted in tradition. It is not a "quick hit" or instant satisfaction. In a world where books, movies, and games can be instantaneously downloaded on our TVs, tablets, and smartphones, it is up to us, the brothers of the briar, to share this wonderful hobby and experience with others, so that pipe smoking is not snuffed out.