As has been mentioned on this fine website in the past, collegiate pipe smokers are growing in numbers, and the increase in new blood in the piping community not only fosters a positive attitude towards our hobby at large, but it also creates an interesting dialogue between the “internet generation” and the pipe veterans, the guys who were smoking a pipe long before all the boutique blends, the vast internet selection, the ease of mail order tobacco, and the wealth of information that is readily available. While bridging the gap between new age and old school has brought us all together and opened new possibilities for all of us as smokers, collectors, and hobbyists, the newer generation of pipe men is facing a silent, uphill battle, a battle of gross misunderstanding, unfair generalizations, and a lack of tolerance from a public too afraid to make up its own mind.
It is common knowledge that there are pipes that are made specifically for the purpose of illicit substances, despite the fact that all of the glass wares that you see in the local head shop are accompanied by a sign that says, “For tobacco use only.” I guarantee you that when a genuine pipe tobacco smoker sees that sign, he scoffs and laughs a little. But thanks to media saturation of widespread drug use, a lot of people who see someone under the age of 30 with a pipe in his or her hand picks up the phone and informs the police that narcotics have made their way into the neighborhood. I have also read on the Pipes Magazine forum that this isn’t something that is strictly limited to the younger generation, and I have heard stories of some of the veteran smokers getting asked by passers by, “Whatcha got in that pipe, dude?” presumably by someone who has eaten a few too many Cheetos.
As if accusations of breaking the law weren’t enough, you also have the “Antis”, better known as the “Buzz Kills” (and by using that terminology, I am surely showing my age, or perhaps lack thereof). These are the people that are convinced in their own mind that the slightest whiff of tobacco smoke is going to condemn them to a life of hospital beds, tracheal rings, and emphysema. That’s not to say that I don’t agree with someone who just doesn’t want to use tobacco. That is their prerogative and I am the last person on Earth to force my lifestyle and my hobbies on to someone that has no interest. But I’m sure all of you have run into that one neighbor or that one passer-by, the person who has enough nerve to approach you when you are on your own front porch or your own back yard, enjoying a cigar or a pipe, and the first whiff of smoke disgusts them to the point that they feel the need to lecture you about the dangers of being able to make up your own mind and do whatever you please on your own property. They insist that you quit smoking on your own property, that smoking will kill you, possibly within the next 10 minutes, and that you are harming the environment and those around you, even if you are by yourself. When you meet a person like that, it can take every fiber of your being not to throw your pipe at them or blow smoke in their face, but let’s face it: you don’t want to hurt a perfectly good pipe, and in this day and age, blowing smoke in someone’s face is probably grounds for assault.
Between the stigmas that are carried with certain types of pipes being used for illicit substances and the anti-tobacco hysteria that is gripping the nation these days, all combined with the ridiculous smoking bans, tobacco legislation, and outrageous new tobacco taxes, it seems that pipe smokers, have almost become a sort of social outcast, and the college kids who are getting into the hobby seem to catch the worst of it. Either we are assumed to be breaking the law because we are using our pipes for drugs, or if we believe what the “antis” tell us, our lungs are going to shrivel and we’ll all be in dentures by age 30 because tobacco will rot our teeth. I, for one, used to get very frustrated by the multitude of negative reactions or false assumptions and ignorance that people have when they see me with my pipe, and for the longest time, I felt a sense of self-consciousness about my pipe, and was almost afraid to carry it with me in public, until one day, I came to a very bold realization.
I love my pipes, I love my tobaccos, I love the taste and the aroma, and quite frankly, I don’t give a damn what other people think about it.
That’s not to say that I am going to break laws or make others uncomfortable just for the sake of enjoying my pipe. I am a law abiding citizen and respect other people’s opinions and lifestyle choices and will not break smoking ordinances or ask to smoke on someone’s property if they are uncomfortable with it. But if I want to smoke in my own yard, I will smoke in my yard. If I want to smoke in my car, I will smoke in my car. If I want to smoke in my home, I will smoke in my home, in my bedroom, in my kitchen, or anywhere else that I am allowed by law to enjoy a smoke.
So for all those collegiate pipe men out there who have been subjected to the hushed giggle and whispers, the pointing and laughing, or the lectures on how tobacco and smoking in general are responsible for the decay of our moral fabric, I urge you all to join me in one very simple gesture: Tell them to shove off. Tell them to beat it. Tell them it’s none of their business. Or better yet, just ignore them. If we want to enjoy our pipe tobacco, we will enjoy our pipe tobacco. We don’t care if you think it’s bad for us, we don’t care if you think we are using our pipes for sordid purposes, and we sure as hell don’t need you to tell us what is good for us and what isn’t good for us. We are all adults, we are all of legal smoking age, and we all have brains. We can make up our own minds and know the risks associated with our hobbies and lifestyle choices. Modern society is overrun with closed mindedness and gross generalizations and ridiculous misconceptions.
My message to the collegiate smokers? Smoke your pipe. Smoke it wherever you are allowed to smoke it. Smoke in defiance, smoke in unity, and smoke without worry or self consciousness. At the end of the day, you are more relaxed, more at peace, and more at ease with yourself than most people will ever hope to be. And you don’t need a closed minded cynic or an over zealous jerk to tell you otherwise.
Special thanks go out to Joe Whalen, Jr., Joe Whalen, Sr., and Ryan March for the photo contributions.