Smokeless in Seattle

Ethan Brandt
Let me paint you a picture with a my word-brush.
A police officer leans on his car near the sidewalk of one of the more hipster neighborhoods of Seattle. In between sips of his delicious coffee, the officer sees three young adults, around 21 years old, shuffle out of a dispensary, guffawing and talking drowsily. One of them carries a plastic bag with a very recognizable leaf splattered all over it. Despite the roasted coffee inches from his nose, the officer detects the not-so-subtle aroma of cannabis wafting from the three bohemians. His face contorts as he resists the temptation to stop them—old habits die hard. He sighs, takes another sip from his coffee, and lets them go. Nothing to be done.

A couple of minutes later, he spots a gentleman sitting in the park across the street. He notices a plume of smoke rising from the man. After being unable to fulfill his sense of justice mere minutes earlier, he gulps down the dregs of his coffee, tosses the cup into a nearby bin, and storms over, propelled by an over-inflated sense of power and purpose.

When the officer arrives, his sees a man in his later years, puffing on a well-loved briar and tossing out breadcrumbs for the local wildlife. "Sir," the officer says, "you know this is a public park."

"Of course, officer," the wizened gentleman says after taking the briar out of his mouth. "I’ve been coming here every Sunday for twenty-three years. I used to come here with my wife; I would smoke my pipe and she would feed the pigeons. I always thought it was absurd. After all, they’re birds. Now that she’s gone, though, it doesn’t feel right not feeding the damned things."

Throughout this entire time, the officer has been glaring at the man’s pipe. "Sir, this is a public park. There’s no smoking in public parks."

The old man pauses, clearly surprised. "I didn’t think I was bothering anyone. Did someone complain? I always choose a nice smelling tobacco for whenever I go out so that I don’t offend anyone."

"I’ve talked to you about this before, sir," the officer says, despite never having met this man before. His blood is still boiling from his feeling of impotence earlier. "I’m going to have to give you a ticket for this. We can’t have tobacco smoke infecting bystanders."

"I didn’t mean to cause any trouble," says the gentleman. With a second glance, he shoves his pipe in his pocket, and grabs his cane to leave, ticket in hand. At the same time, the three young adults come into sight, still reminiscent of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo and probably craving some Oreos.

This scene, despite its obvious hyperbole, depicts something that is a sad reality in Seattle, home of one of America’s largest and most prolific pipe clubs.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Dustin Babitzke (from The Greater Kansas City Pipe Club) about the vitriol directed toward tobacco, which results in similar attitudes towards pipes. That’s when Dustin said something that really struck me: "In Seattle, you’ll get worse treatment for smoking a pipe than you would for smoking marijuana." It’s not quite that simple, but the point remains. Here’s how it ends up looking in Seattle:


  • Cannot be smoked in public areas
  • Cannot be smoked within 25 feet of a building window, door, or ventilation system
  • Cannot be smoked in a car that contains someone under 18 (Proposed)
  • Cannot be shipped to customers in Washington
  • Cannot be flavored (Proposed)


  • Follows the same laws about smoking locations as tobacco
  • Cannot be bought by anyone under age 21

Here’s the real difference: cannabis has recently been legalized by the State of Washington, while tobacco continues to be more and more restricted. While tobacco technically has slightly fewer restrictions governing it, the number of restrictions placed on tobacco are growing, while those on cannabis are shrinking.

I am not writing this to state any opinion on the legality or health risks of cannabis or tobacco. What I am noting is the advent of a trend which insists that smoking a pipe filled with tobacco is more odious than smoking a pipe filled with cannabis.

Many of the limitations being placed on pipe tobacco are shrapnel from the real problem that legislators are trying to fix: flavored cigarettes and Roll Your Own (RYO) tobacco. They have been told over and over again that flavored tobaccos are enticing adolescents to start smoking and that people are avoiding the increased tax on cigarettes by rolling their own cigarettes. Because the anti-tobacco crowd refuses to distinguish between different types and methods of enjoying of tobacco, despite evidence from their own studies, pipe tobacco gets hit by the effects of these actions.

If I may steal a little diddy from Smoky the Bear: you can prevent this. Pipe smokers are the only ones who can save pipe smokers. It is well known that one of the greatest qualities of pipe smokers is their laid back and easy going personalities, which, in some ways, may also be our downfall. This is certainly something that should light a fire under our asses.

Again, I’m not suggesting that legalized cannabis is the enemy, but rather our silence. We must make our voice heard, in whatever way we can. Maybe it’s simply being a gentleman in public and thus giving a good image to pipe smokers. Perhaps it’s not letting claims of “all tobacco products are the same” stand without challenge. Perchance it is taking a minute or two to write or call your local representatives in an informed and respectful way.

So many people laud the value of hoarding tobacco and filling up their cellars, like they are preparing for the post-tobacco apocalypse. Many of these same people, while complaining about the laws and restrictions being placed on pipe tobacco are only vocal on forums and in the safety of their pipe clubs, while remaining conspicuously silent in the public and legal sphere.

As Edmund Burke said, "When bad men combine, the good must associate". This is commonly rephrased as “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I have no doubt that you are good and want only the best for our hobby. All that I ask is that you make sure you are doing something to help reach that goal and not simply blowing smoke.

Ethan Brandt is a first-year Law student at Washington University in St. Louis, focusing primarily on Constitutional Law. He has a blog all about pipes called Pipe School and has had pipe-related pieces published at Smokingpipes, Quality Briar, and works closely with The Briar Portrait Gallery. He picked up his first pipe his freshman year of college and never looked back.

25 Responses

  • I can cross off Seattle as a place that will ever see my tourist dollars. Washington state is a disgrace with their insane taxes on tobacco and their attitude towards smokers. I think all smokers should boycott the state and not spend their tourist dollars there.

  • Amen, Brother Brandt. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: any pipe or cigar smoker that isn’t politically active in relation to smoking or tobacco industry issues does us all a disservice.
    Although I believe marijuana should remain illegal I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I will support efforts to legalize it, solely because I am a pipe smoker. I am sure a certain percentage of pot smokers actually support tobacco and smoking bans, but the first time they try to light up in a park or find a restaurant in which they can smoke they’ll see what it is like for us, and perhaps they’ll see the unfairness of the situation. Not to mention the fact that as smokers of anything we need more people with skin in the game. If these people can manage to convince a majority of people in their states to legalize pot then surely they can work the same magic to ease some of the draconian smoking bans. And wait until they start seeing tobacco taxes applied to marijuana. Welcome to the club, potheads, now go “occupy” your state capital so I can smoke in the park again.

  • Musta been a decade or more ago when I saw Los Lobos in an old theater that had been made a ‘smokeless’ venue. The people behind me fired up weed when the band hit the stage, but I knew if I’d lit up so much as a cigarillo, someone would have to have a cow and get rid of me.
    Finally, I turned around and said to these people “where the hell do you get off smoking ANYTHING in a non-smoking venue? I can’t smoke here, so why should you be able to?” They got quiet, and eventually someone tapped on my shoulder and apologized.
    “Hey, that’s cool- pot doesn’t bother me, but if I can’t smoke why should you?” As per what Chrono above said, these folks got a very smilar message way back when. If the anti crowd gets all shrill to get their way, we need to do the same.

  • It amazes me how our government treats us like ignorant children. I drink alcohol, smoke pipes and cigars, and am a shooting enthusiast. It appears that everything that I enjoy, especially here in the Peoples Republik of New Jersey, has some kind of draconian law attached to it. I can’t have wines from my favorite vineyard that I GOT MARRIED AT in Sonoma, CA due to alcohol shipping restrictions in NJ. As a former active duty Marine who served in Desert Storm and carried multiple weapons daily is not, in the eyes of this state, capable of carrying a concealed weapon for personal protection. Last but not least, I have seen the tobacco tax go from 6-12-24-48% in NJ. A B&M that buys tobacco for $100 must sell it for $148 JUST TO BREAK EVEN. I was hoping the (eventual)legalization of marijuana would subsidize other taxes but I feel that our blank check writing government will just give themselves more benefits before taking care of the people they are supposed to be serving.
    Sorry for the rant gents………….

  • On the PM Forums, someone said, “I think one of the biggest issues here is how to engage.”
    Well,I’ve said this before. The model is the CRA, the Cigar Rights of America, started by a cigar shop owner in Florida and a few others in the cigar business. Just take a look at CRA today — a real force to be reckoned in Washington, DC and most states as well.
    How to engage? Exactly as CRA did, someone in the pipes and pipe tobacco business, or someone who’s livelihood depends on that industry, needs to contact some influential friends — B&M owners, tobacco blenders, wholesalers, etc. — and simply model their efforts on how CRA started to get the ball rolling. Soon, pipe smokers will have an organization to support and an organized, nation-wide group that supports us too.

  • I’m glad to see marijuana treated more sensibly – it’s about time.
    That being said – how about some sensible attitudes towards tobacco, instead of just demonizing it?

  • Thanks for all the comments, gents!
    Okrent, I take your meaning. That’s why I said it was “obvious hyperbole”. A caricature to make a point,

  • Most folks don’t realize that freedom is so fragile. In a democracy any activity can be proscribed if popular opinion holds sway. Next thing you know, they’ll outlaw large sodas.

  • That was a massive exageration! The author gives the impression that the people smoking marijuana would be allowed to do so while the old guy with the briar would not. That is completely wrong. Tobacco is still more legal and available than marijuana. Marijuana is illegal in 48 states as well as federally. Tobacco is widely available and legal. You cannot smoke MJ in a car while you can happily puff your pipe. In colorado it sounds like you will not be able to smoke mj even in your yard while a pipe you can smoke in any outdoor setting.

  • COMPLETELY wrong, Trucha? I don’t thinks so, and here’s why. First off, did you read my earlier post? That happened about a decade ago. Social pressure against tobacco was that strong, even then. If you’ve read at all about tobacco bans in bars, people (citizens, not cops) have called the police to turn in smokers as they’ve left bars, saying this person with license plate such-and-such has had too much to drink and should not be driving. THAT’s how vicious do-gooder anti-smokers can get about advancing their brand of social-engineering.
    Attitudes like this eventually become public policy. Among people around baby-boom and gen-x age, blowing a little weed is seen as an innocent crime, but second-hand cig smoke is wrongly portrayed as killings scores of people everyday! A pot smoker is just getting a little bliss, but a tobabcco user is a poisoner! Have you heard the brand new stats about how over 50% of Americans think pot should be lagalized?
    Here’s something else. In parks where I live, smoking tobacco has now been illegal for over a year. But kids and others will suck down a cig out there in 5 minutes, knowing their chance of getting caught is slim. But a pipe or cigar smoker is going to take half an hour or more to smoke- and his window of getting caught is way bigger. I could see a cop confiscating a prized briar, and that owner not getting it back as well without a major headache.
    So what happens? Kids continue smoking, and the pipe people prudently abstain. Whose habit is worse? You tell me. Do gooders have a bee in their bonnet about getting cancer from cancer from a tendril of tobacco smoke (otherwise, they’d live forever, you know) but hey, the weed is all in good fun and no one wants to turn in anyone and get a record over getting high.

  • Ststephen,
    As the author, you’re right, it was hyperbole. I admitted that in the article. The point was to show the direction we are heading. Cannabis is gaining acceptability, while tobacco is losing it. I know that is not how it is now, but unless we act, cannabis will be equally, if not more acceptable, than tobacco.

  • Oh I KNOW it was hyperbole, Foolish, but I wasn’t the one who accused you of it! That was another person or two, not me- but that’s okay- you are being the gentleman aren’t you? Just trying to set things straight for the record.
    I wonder about what’s elminated in literature classes these days. Men like Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Oscar Wilde, Orwell and Jethro Tull of course all pushed the envelope, with well-needed social criticisms and commentaries. I suppose they are written off as cavemen and forgotten now, but let’s hope some who know can maintain such a rich tradition! And not that their times were so splendid, but how far have we come when such lameness flourishes?

  • Sorry about that! I used the wrong person’s screen name… that was intended for trucha. Many apologies.

  • Thanks for the article Ethan, although its embarrassing to be the object of your deserved alarm and ridicule. Here in Washington, we live in an incredibly left wing state where liberal often seems to mean no toleration of anything but the leftist agenda. Tobacco smoking is one of the leftist targets in the crosshairs of our government and it’s been successfully curtailed, restricted, demonized and taxed to near death. That said, some of my good friends in the Seattle Pipe Club are liberals and clearly they take exception to the way Washington treats tobacco smokers. Our votes and voices have not been enough to stop this insanity. Tobacco is (and has been for some time) the poster child for vices that must be eliminated for our own good. When our state passed laws making it illegal to smoke in public places, our club was forced to move to (incredibly comfortable) lodgings on the local Indian reservation. While that is OK for the SPC, it is far from OK to make all tobacco smokers outcasts. You are not far off the mark observing how marijuana gets treated as something desirable to legalize. The same people who pretend to care about the serious health consequences of tobacco, don’t have the slightest clue or care about the health or social consequences of pot. This is irony but a red herring.
    Yes its important to stand up for our rights: we have and continue to do that — for all the good it does. Our club political liaison Bob Ramstad, I and many members of our club have testified in our state capital at committee hearings on tobacco legislation since they started passing laws against us. Almost no elected official will stand up and say they support tobacco smoking of any kind. Distinctions between pipe and cigarette smoking are irrelevant to these people. They simply want to eradicate tobacco in all its forms for everyone everywhere. We are a minority of a minority. Sadly, there aren’t enough pipe smokers to influence anyone.
    Point in case: Our SPC tobaccos have become 3 of the most popular blends in America but it is against the law for us to mail order our own club tobacco. So thanks to these stupid laws we can’t buy our own tobacco in our own state. How do you think that makes us feel?
    This isn’t the way a democracy is supposed to work. This is more like kindergarten autocracy. Somebody said that a true democracy wasn’t the rule of the majority but rather the protection of rights of the minority. Pipe smokers are a minority who’s rights are being trampled by our government and our fellow citizens.

  • Sometimes I feel like our tight knit band of pipe smokers is like those people in Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451. Seen it? Read it? If not you should. Its a disturbing morality tale with eery similarities to our times. In a nutshell, a totalitarian government decides to make all books illegal and sends SWAT teams of ‘firemen’ out to search and burn them. (what’s better than an ignorant populous?) The ‘rebels’ are outcasts who save the precious knowledge by memorizing every word of every book they can save. They effectively become the book and protect it for future generations.
    We can and certainly should enjoy our pipe smoking. And I agree that in some ways this is a ‘golden age’ for pipe carvers, collectors and tobaccos. But it is a small flame that can easily be extinguished. The dark clouds aren’t on the horizon, they are overhead. The most important part of what we are doing is carrying on the tradition, knowledge and art of pipe smoking.

  • Matt,
    Your devotion to the hobby and your vocal support has always been clear to me and we are lucky to have you.
    Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite books. Always has been since I first read it.

  • Yeah, I would love to boycott Wa state. Except I LIVE here. Sorry. I was at the Governor’s ball this last February. The place was littered with law enforcement, not one bothered me. Of course there were lots of cigar smokers, perhaps one other pipe smoker.
    Nothing would please me more than to be able to purchase tobacco online. I found out the hard way that I can not. Thankfully the nice people at the online site informed me that i can not buy and have it shipped to my home..GRRR! (I’m a bear,I growl…sometimes.)
    Perhaps more than just being vocal is needed here. We as pipe smokers may have to display some of the anger we have not shown in the past.
    On a more positive note, one of the newer pipe smokers here is 19ish and his friends are interested too. Perhaps the new generation can help put voice to our hobby before they and we are regulated out of existence.

  • Matt & Foolish,
    Thanks for the reminder on Fahrenheit 451- I don’t think I ever read that, but I did read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Bradbury, which is no doubt not relevant to this topic but worth checking out anyway.
    Don’t forget Orwell’s 1984. I thought I read that around high school or so, but a year ago when I found a thrift store paperback copy, I began to read it and was unable to recall having done so in the first place. Great book.
    As per the CRA which someone mentioned earlier, my problem is that it appears that selling cigars is as much as an issue for them as the legislation they claim to oppose. Are they really concerned about our rights- or asking us to join the club and buy cigars? I emailed them once wondering if they were also supporting pipe rights and I never heard back from them. Thoughts, anyone?