Pipe Tobacco vs. Roll-Your-Own – What’s the Definition?

Pipe tobacco is facing a crucial moment in the crafting of its’ definition for taxation purposes. Some think pipe tobacco could be taxed out of existence. However, right now we have the best chance to save it. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is soliciting comments that must be received by September 20, 2010. Currently, the only government definition for pipe tobacco and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco is based on the labeling. So, if you label it pipe tobacco, then it is ‘pipe tobacco’ … even if roll-your-own tobacco is inside the package.

The problem with this is that last year the tax on roll-your-own tobacco had an outrageous increase of over 2000%. Then the roll-your-own producers, to escape this deadly tax, started selling their tobaccos as ‘pipe tobacco’. Once the government figured this out, two Congressmen introduced a bill to ramp up pipe tobacco taxes to be equal to RYO.

PipesMagazine.com published "Don’t Tread on Pipe Tobacco or Anything Else" in March. That article spoke out not only on the proposed tax increase of 775% on pipe tobacco, (which could still happen), but on how wrong it is to tax any lifestyle choices. The article also defended the RYO producers for exploiting the loophole in the law. We also published a petition asking for our readers to act to make sure the tobacco tax parity act was not passed.

While we still stand by our former editorial position, we are going to sing a slightly different tune now in order to preserve our beloved hobby. While these gigantic tax increases on any product are just plain wrong, we have to save pipe tobacco.

Here is what is happening and what we ask our readers to do.

Recent Happenings:
1. The pipe tobacco industry is providing its’ suggestions to the TTB to get a clear differentiation between pipe tobacco and RYO.
2. The TTB is asking for public comments.
3. PipesMagazine.com has talked to several pipe tobacco manufacturers, blenders and retailers to get their input.

What Needs to Happen:
1. The industry needs to agree on the differentiating factors and speak with one voice to solve this problem.
2. The TTB cannot get overwhelmed with too many different comments, and confused, or this will fail and pipe tobacco will be taxed at the same rate as RYO.
3. We ask the public to put comments here for the industry to consider, and not on the Federal Register.

Altadis USA has submitted the most detailed comments, which are very specific in differentiating pipe tobacco from RYO. However, some of the industry has pointed out in their conversations with PipesMagazine.com that the cut requirements are too thick and the moisture content is too high to cover all legitimate pipe tobacco.

Flakes and other pressed types of tobaccos were not covered. We spoke to Paul Creasy, the General Manager of Altadis’ Richmond Virginia Pipe Tobacco division, and he told us that they are also suggesting that pre-existing pipe tobaccos be grandfathered in, which solves this problem.

He also informed us that industry representatives belonging to the Pipe Tobacco Council will convene a meeting within a few weeks (after they get through the large IPCPR industry trade show next week). At this meeting they will see what compromises can be made to address the cut and moisture measurements. The Pipe Tobacco Council is a trade group that works on legislative issues. All the members are not specified, but we do know that not every pipe tobacco producer is a member, and that there are membership dues to help pay the high attorney fees involved.

Mr. Creasy also emphasized the importance of the industry speaking with one voice or risking failure in differentiating pipe tobacco from RYO, and then suffering the consequences of a 775% tax increase.

Two well-known industry tobacco men with popular pipe tobacco brands are not in agreement with the current Altadis proposal.

Craig Tarlar from Cornel & Diehl and Gregory Pease of G.L. Pease are concerned for some of their current products, and potential new products. Before we iterate their comments, here are the pertinent details of the Altadis proposal.

A representative for Altadis USA, Inc., a manufacturer and importer of pipe tobacco, submitted the most detailed proposal regarding physical standards in comments to Notice No. 95, which were repeated in a separate letter to TTB’s Administrator. Stating that it believes the new packaging requirements outlined in Notice No. 95 are only marginally helpful in dealing with the "misclassification problem," Altadis USA, Inc. proposes that TTB establish standards of physical characteristics for pipe tobacco. It asserts that examination of physical characteristics is necessary to determine whether the product, by virtue of its "appearance" and "type," is "suitable for use" as tobacco to be smoked in a pipe, as described in the statutory definition of pipe tobacco at 26 U.S.C. 5702(n), or as tobacco for making cigarettes or cigars, as described in the statutory definition of rollyourown tobacco at 26 U.S.C. 5702(o). This commenter therefore proposes that processed tobacco in its finished form be classified as pipe tobacco only if it meets at least one of the following:

– At least 18% of its weight consists of reducing sugars;
– Moisture content exceeds 22% of its weight;
– Its cut tobacco exceeds 1/8 inch in width;
– At least 10% of its weight consists of Latakia, Perique, or Black Tobacco (USDA Type 37) or a combination thereof; or
– At least 20% of its weight consists of flavoring, casing, or other nontobacco content.

According to the commenter, any processed tobacco product that does not meet any of these criteria cannot be legitimately classified as pipe tobacco and must be classified as rollyourown tobacco.

TTB notes that this commenter also proposes that TTB take into consideration preexisting or established brands for pipe tobacco and rollyourown tobacco. The commenter states that prior to the introduction of the relevant tobacco tax legislation in Congress in January 2009, there were no "crossover brands", that is, "brands associated with both pipe tobacco and rollyourown tobacco." The commenter therefore urged TTB to deem any processed tobacco regularly sold under a preexisting brand name, trade name, or trademark predominantly associated with rollyourown tobacco, prior to January 1, 2009, as rollyourown tobacco. Similarly, any processed tobacco regularly sold under a pre-existing brand name, trade name, or trademark predominantly associated with pipe tobacco prior to January 1, 2009, should be deemed pipe tobacco.


Mr. Tarlar of Cornell & Diehl iterates that a 1/8 inch cut is quite thick. He said to imagine 8 slices of flake tobacco in an inch, implying they would be pretty thick slices. It is also difficult for small oriental leaves. Moisture of 22% is high in Mr. Tarlar’s view as well. He feels that 15% – 18% is more reasonable. The grandfather clause is good, but it could be a restraint of trade for someone new wanting to get into the business. It is also challenging to get a reading for moisture. You cannot insert a probe. You have to weigh a portion of tobacco, then dry it out in an oven and weight it again. Then you have to repeat the process a few times to account for fluctuations in samples.

G. L. Pease had some concerns as well. The measurements in the current suggestions by Altadis would disqualify several of his blends. While admitting that the grandfather clause would save those blends, the question is on new blends.

1) Burleys contain almost no reducing sugars, though they are generally cased, so they’d generally fly through. But, even many Virginias have sugar content lower than 18%. Orientals and Latakia are very low, so the typical Latakia blend will certainly fall below 18% reducing sugars, unless it’s cased. That leaves room for SOME of the producers, but certainly not me.

2) At 22% moisture content, tobacco is quite damp. At that level, it will clump, burn poorly, and deliver a lot of hot water vapor in the smoke-stream. At that moisture level, the likelihood of mold is increased unless steps are taken to prevent it. So, this means MORE chemicals in our tobaccos. Not my idea of good policy.

3) Cut? Most of my blends are between 1/16th and 1/10th of an inch. So, what, only broad cut tobaccos qualify as pipe tobaccos? That leaves out MOST of what’s produced for the pipe. Very few tobaccos are 8-cut or broader.

4) If a straight, uncased Virginia, at a proper 13-18% moisture content, cut 1/10th of an inch, without "black tobaccos" would not be considered a pipe tobacco, then Union Square would not be considered a pipe tobacco.

None of the above is a problem for tobaccos grandfathered in, but what it does not address is whether or not new products from existent brands would classified similarly. The language is ambiguous.

Mr. Creasy responded that this is a great opportunity for the industry to finally have a ruling differentiating pipe tobacco from RYO. In his conversations with lawmakers he never found a desire to target legitimate pipe tobacco, only what is masquerading as pipe tobacco. We have to distinguish legit pipe tobacco from illegitimate, and then we will not have to worry about the Tobacco Tax Parity Act.

Mr. Creasy admits that there are pipe tobaccos that fall outside the cut and moisture proposals Altadis has articulated. Aromatics are easy, but flakes and English styles are harder. That is why they suggested that only one characteristic need be met. When the Pipe Tobacco Council meets in a few weeks, they will address flakes and cubes.

"It is imperative to present one industry standard to the TTB that solves the problem. The industry has to speak with one voice. We have to make a clear difference between pipe tobacco and RYO. The industry needs to come together to save it. We can’t give the TTB the opportunity to say that it is impossible to determine a difference or will we lose."

"Maybe some small changes will need to be made to some blends to qualify. That would be better than failing, because then everybody would lose."

The sooner there is a definition, the less likely we will have the problem of a huge tax increase.

When asked straight out if he would consider changing the cut width and moisture levels in the proposal, Mr. Creasy said he could be persuaded to lower the moisture level, and maybe just a little bit on the cut.

"The roll-your-own guys have already figured out how to cut thicker to fake it. All I want to do is make sure there is no more fake pipe tobacco out there".


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22 Responses

  • I can’t believe we are actually having to defend our right to smoke a pipe, but here we are none the less. I smoke American made corn cob pipes exclusively and I smoke American-made tobacco. I don’t inhale. I don’t smoke around non-smokers and I’ve never forced a non-smoker to smoke. What crime have I committed?
    I pay more taxes than non-smokers, and while I support what I consider cottage or even artisan tobacconists they are under attack by new rules, regulations and taxes at every turn.
    As long as our federal government continues to spend like drunken sailors (with apologies to hard-working drunken sailors) I’ll sign whatever anti-tax petition that’s put before me; but I fear that those who are conspiring against pipe smokers were in this fight LONG before we even knew there was a fight.
    Stand up Americans and defend your freedom while you have any left to defend! We have our rights not because some pinhead in Washington says so, but we have them as free men in the greatest nation on God’s green earth!
    They say we get the government we deserve… I say we deserve better.

  • I guess the pipe tobacco manufacturers know what they are doing. If this new course gets results in lower taxes, then I will support it.
    But it doesn’t change my opinion that an attack on one kind of tobacco should be considered an attack on ALL. “Divide and conquer” seems to be the strategy of our tax-levying opponents.

  • That picture of the two crossed pipes needs to be made into a t-shirt.
    Proceeds to go to the attorneys for our side!
    Gabrieli Pipes

  • All of this is just another instance of the “Nanny State” reducing us to over-taxed serfs, under the thumbs of the “government royalty”. Where in our constitution do they really have any rights to do this, they don’t. Congress has warped and distorted the constitution and law to a point that they are unrecognizableas written by the Founding Fathers. It does seem that such behavior was one prime cause of the original American Revolution!

  • cortezattic,
    I have to ask, why. What’s your issue with one particular way of consuming tobacco?
    Weather I burn it in a bowl, roll it up in a tobacco leaf, or a bit of paper, it’s still the same plant being burned for enjoyment.
    I’ll agree that the crap that big “tobacco” produces is different and not fit to call tobacco, but not the stuff I roll (which I’ve burned in my pipe as well).
    I think all tobacco taxes should be lower and calculated the same. Why should the end use change the rate or method? Tax them all by weight (dry weight would be preferable, but hard to calculate reliably). Instead, sometimes it’s per item (cigars/cigarettes) and sometimes it by weight.
    Personally I like a pure tobacco, that is simply cured, without added flavorings/toppings. Variation in the blend is all that differentiates “pipe” and “cigarette” tobacco, and many (like PA, though it’s topped more than I like) are suitable for both. If I had a good source for wrapper leaves, I could roll them as a cigar too. Some cuts work better in a pipe and some better in a cigarette, but non is inherently a “pipe” cut or a “cigarette” cut.

  • As noted above put the tax on the rolling papers or tubes. Not only will you be taxing the right folks, you will also start getting a tax payment out of the other “RYO” group who don’t even use tobacco. Of course then we would see spiralling prices on EBay for “collectible rolling papers” LOL.
    Al (in Canada)

  • Al,
    Suppose they should increase the tax on pipes, filters, and pipe cleaners too.
    Plenty of non tobacco pipe users, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want them avoiding taxes either.
    Same old snobbish attitude from pipe (and cigar) smokers. Cigarette smokers are less than second class to you. Never mind that I smoke a pipe and cigars as well, you’re happy to tax the other guy which is what got us all into this mess in the first place.

  • stdog,
    Nope you mis-read me. Supposedly the legislators have already decided to go after cigarette smokers and are targeting the roll-your-own crowd. RYO tobacco manufacturers muddied the waters by relabelling their product as “pipe tobacco” to avoid the higher cigarette tax.
    The question is not whether the tax is right or wrong, it is how to levy the tax without catching the pipe smoker as “collateral damage”. To me since it requires shredded tobacco and a paper wrapper to make a cigarette, and the tobacco could be confused with the shredded tobacco for a pipe, the tax could just as easily be levied on the second essential part of the cigarette as the first, leaving no room for confusion.
    As to whether I am a snob or not is a moot point, but I will note that “some of my best friends” still smoke cigarettes. Is my suggestion self serving, definitely and unappolegetically YES!
    Al (in Canada)

  • It seems obvious to me that RYO specifications existing prior to the FTCA should be examined carefully and then classify all RYO as the average of those specifications, particularly cut-size, which is notably a smaller cut than any pipe tobacco I have ever smoked. I believe that should solve the problem if honesty can prevail. The problem may end up being the greed of the RYO manufacturer and that could bring the entire tobacco industry to an end.

  • Bob,
    I would disagree with your characterization of the RYO manufacturers.
    Finding a way to reduce taxes is something we all do, individuals and companies.
    For many of the small RYO companies, the increased taxes were (and still are) likely to put them out of business. I suspect the same is true for small “pipe” blenders too. How many small pipe blenders do you thing would survive a 2000% increase in price?
    The new shipping rules are another nail in the coffin for many RYO blenders. My 3 favorite blends are not available locally, so mail order was the only option. These are small companies that have little or no distribution network.
    Stores won’t carry the stuff (I talked to a few here) because they have limited space and don’t want to use it for low volume products. For example I cannot buy D&R tobacco within 100 miles, nor anything else Mark Ryan is associated with.

  • (n) Pipe tobacco
    The term “pipe tobacco” means any tobacco which, because of its appearance, type, packaging, or labeling, is suitable for use and likely to be offered to, or purchased by, consumers as tobacco to be smoked in a pipe.
    (o) Roll-your-own tobacco
    The term “roll-your-own tobacco” means any tobacco which, because of its appearance, type, packaging, or labeling, is suitable for use and likely to be offered to, or purchased by, consumers as tobacco for making cigarettes or cigars, or for use as wrappers thereof.
    Is it just my way of thinking (or interpretation of certain words), that some of this problem could be fixed by replacing the word ‘or’ with ‘and’? Honestly, I understand that “RYO” companies are doing the same thing that even we as individuals have done for years by trying to save on taxation, but the thought that goes through my head is; why would the current administration put hard working people out of jobs by over-taxing their product, when all they do is preach about lowering unemployment. Double talk has never made sense to me. I don’t discriminate between different types of tobacco use, but as it was said earlier, there needs to be a standard on how all of this is taxed. I am not sure but could somebody tell me if beer is taxed differently between cans and bottles? Or maybe something like cough medicine, is it taxed differently between pill form and liquid form? I truly dont know, but the point is, why tax the same product differently by categorizing in the way it is consumed?

  • Gents,
    We were asked to offer an opinion on how to best distinguish the difference between RYO and Pipe Tobacco. The government \IS\ going to tax RYO disguised as Pipe Tobacco. This is the Pipe Smoker’s opportunity to preserve tobacco intended for use in pipes from extraordinary taxation. Congress has already passed the FTCA authorizing the taxation. We are not going to change the law here. The fact that the government is willing to possibly differentiate between tobbaco used in pipes and that used in RYO is welcomed by me. After all, whle all smoking is considered bad by many people, it’s the ciggs that have caused the uproar about health related problems much more so than smoking pipes. Let’s answer their question, if we can, or we’ll all be damned in the end. And, yes, I am a believer in \freedom\ and the right for tobacco user’s to RYO if they want to.

  • Capt Bob “it’s the ciggs that have caused the uproar about health related problems much more so than smoking pipes”
    It’s wasn’t RYO either. Most RYO blends were(are?) better blends, real tobacco, and few additives. After the tax increase several started using the “big tobacco” processes like expanded tobacco to get the same volume in less weight (thus lowering the tax hit).
    While I’d love to see pipe tobacco not get killed by a tax hike, it’s coming. It might be delayed this round, but the anti-tobacco forces will be back and eventually win.
    There’s just no reasonable way to differentiate between loose tobacco for pipes and for cigarettes. There are extremes that are easy to pick, but too much middle ground.
    The tobacco I rolled before the tax cut wider is nice in my pipe (though it burned a bit hot), and even better now that it’s cut wider. Change the distinction, and they’ll cut it a little wider and/or make it a little higher moisture, but it’s still the same tobacco and it smoke well either way.
    It’s much better as is in a pipe than many similarly priced tobaccos with heavy toppings (like found in chain stores). Yet those heavily topped tobaccos would be exempt a little longer.

  • The easiest solution is to tax cigarette papers, rolling ‘kits’, and filters. That is really the only fair way to do it. And it has the added benefit of getting taxes from Reefer aficionados as well, who are currently paying no taxes for their indulgences.
    I don’t believe there is any good way to differentiate between cigarette, and pipe tobacco blends. Burlys and Virginias are used in both cigs, and pipes. And there are many of us who prefer unflavored ‘straight’ tobacco in our pipes. I myself enjoy a rare bowl of straight Burly from time to time. And everyone does not smoke blends with ‘Black’ tobaccos in them. There are many very good ‘Blonde’ blends out there.
    Taxing rolling papers would eliminate the need to create meaningless and arbitrary definitions.

  • I have been a cigarette smoker for almost thirty years, I’ve been a cigar smoker for at least half of that and started smoking a pipe roughly two years ago. Any smoker can and will tell you straight that while it is tobacco used for all of these it is not even close to being the same at all. I can smoke a cigar for two hours and still have the need to smoke a cigarette during or after. The same can be said for pipe tobacco. When tobacco prices went through the roof I tried rolling pipe tobacco as an alternative, it is not the same. It doesn’t roll well, the taste is much different and the biggest drawback is the chemical element is totally different, pipe and cigar tobacco does not include the exact chemicals as cigarette tobacco at all. It fails to satisfy the need of a cigarette smoker because of that I went back to cigarette tobacco. The most incredible thing I have found with both cigar and pipe tobacco is I have never become addicted to these products as I have with cigarettes so I know from that alone there is a big difference for many people as well as myself.

  • Mr. Mathes,
    If you substitute “Skoal dip” for the “cigarettes” in your story, it would be MY story exactly. I love smoking a pipe (and cigars occasionally) but as soon as I finish, I’m ready for a dip. Tobacco is NOT all the same stuff as far as satisfaction (and addiction) goes.

  • It always worries me when I’m always “lumpted” into the same catagory with cigerite smokers. Time and time again I get good comments from my neighbors in the apt. complex where we share common outside areas.They always like the smell of my pipe tobacco. They say it reminds them of thier Dad or Granddad when they were little kids. Of course, we all know what is the true agenda from the antismokers. It’s the total obliteration of the freedom to have a good time and to relax after a long day of stress and worry with a good pipe.You can see it in thier faces.They have a real hate about that look of content on your face.They want to instill in the brains of little children that secondhand smoke will kill them even if it is outside at a beach or park.The goal of the anti-smokers is to make a pipe smoker into a two-headed monster not to be talked to or approched.Guess what?…I’m in my late fifties. Just had a chest x-ray and everthing came-out perfect. I smoke at night and morning.My Uncle who smoked a pipe was a great inspiration to me. He had wisdom and had a way to analyze a problem or issues.I still have one of his pipes standing along with my other forty.He lived to be a ripe old age of seventy something.

  • As a pipe and cigar smoker, I worked in a smoke shop for about 10 years, between 1995 and 2005, and during that time I gave up cigarettes for good. I bear out what Edwin Mathes and Jimbo above say- that cigs and dip are the really addictive forms of tobacco. I’ll often not even remember to smoke during a particularly busy day- this is not the mark of an addict.
    Furthermore, In all those years I sold tobacco, only ONCE did anyone ever come in to buy pipe tobacco for rolling, and this was years before roll-yer-own tax hikes were thought of.
    Also, I heard many times from confirmed cig smokers that they had to interrupt their cigars just to get that cig action happening.

  • When the tax went thru the roof on cigs I went to my usual plan B when money is tight:RYO
    I was shocked at the cost of a can of Top. I was so p i s s ed I wan’ted to throw someone in the f u c k in river.
    I stopped at a shop the other day to buy a good roller and found all this menthol or mint “pipe Tobacoo” That looked just right for my new roller. I laughed my a s s off walking out of that store.
    I under stand that pipe smokers want to protect there wallets by not being brought down with the RYO crowd and i’m sure the you want the preserver your tradition of what pipe tobacco is. You need to know that we are in this together. THEY are coming for you next regardless. Then it will be a poll tax, then it will be a tribute tax…
    If they make clear definitions between the two tobaccos people will find a way to dry and grind the blends that most resemble rolling tobacco. I’ll have to ad a shredder next to my rolling machine. Please don’t ask to tax my new grinder too…
    How bout this one…
    I have to pay state and local sales tax on a price that has been taxed. I’m being taxed on my tax… Insane. Don’t get me started. I’m going to go have a smoke.
    They are going to nail you guy too.