Of Mencken and Tobacco Zombies

Fred Brown
First, a few words from the old newspaper cynic,
author and official American curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), the "Sage of Baltimore":: The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable. And one more blast from Mencken before we begin in earnest: Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.

Call me an alarmist, but I fear for our future. As I see it, our prospects play out like this: As go cigars, so goes pipes and tobacco.

How is this for the way things work: At the same time America is normalizing relations with Cuba, it is telling the premium cigar world that maybe it would be a good idea to start digging a hole and to place a phone call to the florists for the funeral!

Now, everyone who hasn’t been under a rock knows that the best cigars in the world come from—let’s hear it—"Cuba!&quot: And most of those brands are premiums, right?

Does this make any sense? Just when America is coming around to fixing relations with a close-by neighbor who just happens to have the finest cigars and best cigar rollers on the planet, our government in all of its regulatory nonsense is about to put the kibosh to premium cigars by initiating iron-fisted tobacco regulations through the Food and Drug Administration.

Some of us have waited more than 50 years to get cigars from Cuban legally. (Note: Legend is that when President Kennedy initiated the "all trade&quot: embargo in 1962, he sent his staff out in Washington to buy up all the Cuban cigars they could find. Just saying.)

And now when you think the ghosts of the past are about to float into the firmament, the government sends out a gremlin to run you down.

And get this: In Denver, weed smokers are pushing to be able to smoke their joints in bars and pubs.

If that flies in the Mile High City (which takes on new meaning today), then that will grant you the right to smoke weed in a bar while at the same time preventing your lighting up a cigar or pipe. Yeah, that makes sense. You talk about crass hypocrisy?

Maybe we all should move to Denver!

But, here is why I am so upset: if the FDA is able to go through with some of its complicated options (Option 1 and Option 2) of its proposed regulations that define premium cigars as any rolled up wad of tobacco costing $10 or more as "premium&quot:, you will see the start of the end of days. There are plenty of really, really good cigars under a 10-spot, which could mean those "cheapies&quot: will face the FDA wrecking ball if produced after 2007.

So, does the "exemption,&quot: as FDA describes it, mean that anything under $10 and not being sold as of Feb. 15, 2007, (the date FDA picked as a grandfather clause) will have to go through a "premarket tobacco application?&quot:

Naturally, the premarket gibberish will cost the manufacturer thousands of dollars, time and effort to get FDA approval for a cigar that costs, say, $8.

Of course, since we are dealing with a colossus of a bureaucracy all this could change, and probably will before the ink dries on this column.

Can you see how disruptive these actions could be for not only for the manufacturer but also the merchant? If enacted, thousands of jobs will be lost in the U.S. and the Caribbean, and this at a time when we are telling Cuba that we are friendly neighbors again!

But, wait, that’s not all. If the FDA can do that to premium cigars, its Center for Tobacco Products will next turn its guns on pipe tobacco. Legislation is already scooting around halls of Congress that would make coming out with new pipe tobacco blends sound like making a loan to Greece: you pay in gold and get nothing in return.

Let’s face it. The tobacco picture today in America is as "F.U.B.A.R.’d&quot: as Donald Trump’s hair.

I’m not making another push to hoard your pipe tobacco and cigars. Lord knows, I have a cellar full of pipe tobacco and enough humidors humming away to make Churchill giddy with delight. Simply put, I’m done with the cellaring (maybe), since I believe I’m ahead of the FDA hammer.

It is down to this: If I wish to smoke my pipes and cigars in peace and tranquility, why can’t you (the anti-zealots) leave me be? I either smoke outside on my deck, or in a cigar shop where I am amongst kindred souls.

And here are a couple other anomalies that haunt me: If tobacco and nicotine are so bad for you, why aren’t the Regulators falling in on weed smokers? THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main component responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effect) has got to be worse than nicotine, depending upon your point of view, right?

And now, the FDA is running after the electronic cigarette smokers. They just woke up to the fact that if high school and middle school kids can’t smoke mom and pop’s cigarettes, they will buy e-cigs with who knows what is in them?

So the FDA has turned its ire toward the growing e-cigarette threat to children (2.2 million now smoking the things, according to the latest printed figures) and publishing all sorts of studies that make it seem as if the Regulators are playing catch-up ball, which they are.

Clue: If it becomes too expensive or onerous to buy the old-fashioned tobacco-filled cigarettes, then those who wish to smoke will find their way, perhaps, to those electronic things. I have a better idea, however: Buy a pipe and some good pipe tobacco while you can.

I wonder. Does any of this remind you of some sort of dystopian world where the inmates are in charge and tobacco zombies are on the loose?

I now turn the podium over to Mr. Mencken once more:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.



Fred Brown
is a journalist who lives in Knoxville, TN. He will write this column for PipesMagazine.com monthly. He can be contacted at


19 Responses

  • To paraphrase Shakespeare in “Henry VI, Part Two,” first thing we do, let’s pull the plug on the unelected and unaccountable Food and Drug Administration, then certain members of Congress, then a majority of the Supreme Court, and then… 🙂

  • “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…”

  • Thanks Fred. I keep hoping that the relatively small numbers in pipe smoking will sap the enthusiasm for legislation and regulation, but maybe that’s wishful thinking. Cigars became a luxury item and cigar buffs strutted high-end products and celebrity fans. Pipers as a group are pretty quiet, and a significant cohort are “mature.” But hell hath no fury like people inspired by righteousness in the name of public health. One trait we lack right now, inside and out of government, is a sense of balance. It is disliked, scorned, even loathed. Too bad.

  • Inmates are running the asylum. They have “safe injection sites” so addicts can shoot up but I can’t smoke tobacco on a walking trail or within a Provincial Park. It makes no sense to me, I was born many decades to late.

  • Fred, you are preaching to the choir here. Any answers or suggestions for solving the problems you have detailed?
    In Colorado the various governments are simply trying to grow a new tax base as another, tobacco, shrinks. Obviously there are more voters desiring more government handouts than there are voters wanting personal freedoms. Perhaps that will change, perhaps not. No need to get one’s dander up. The situation is simply what the people desire. One can either live with it or try to change it.
    I’m sure the increasing costs of tobacco will impact many of the members of this forum. The situation, as you lay it out, crosses international boundaries as many countries see tobacco as both an evil and a revenue stream.
    Smart Cuban businesses will figure out a way to profit from the changing conditions, the others will simply wither way.
    The correct individual response to the situation as you interpret it, is to make more moneys so to keep up with climbing prices. The collective response is . . . what? I don’t pretend to know.
    The membership of this forum is politically diverse, so very diverse that I do not see any chance of us coming together as a political force able to lobby successfully on a single issue. Therefore, if I am correct, all we can do is lament our position in life and improve our economical situation so as to keep up with increased tobacco costs and fewer choices in what we can purchase to burn up.

  • Some states tried that dissolution stuff many years ago. Didn’t work. That was also about the time that the states and the electorate decided that big government trumped individual or state’s rights. Income tax, government control of transportation, more power ceded to the Executive, and etc. pretty much all stemmed from that wee dust up back in the 1800’s.

  • The war on tobacco isn’t morality, it’s MONEY. Many who have to pay the medical bills (Blue Cross, Aetna and I-Don’t-Care-Whoever)gets nada from tobacco tax. So they look on tobacco as a controllable cost. Outlaw the behavior. Eliminate the cost. Government has a cost/benefit to look at. They DO get tax money. All those other players?
    They got lobbyists.
    They buy Congressmen.
    Buy the Congressman;
    by-by tobacco.

  • Man, if they do ban tobacco completely, it will make prohibition look like Disneyland.

  • Great read and pretty scary. I have finished my cellar as I believe it is just a matter of time before bad things happen. Totally ironic that I believe it will be cheaper to buy Cuban cigars from tobacconists in Spain, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Gibralter, Switzerland than it will be in the U.S when and if they become legal.

  • I predict that some/most/all of what we fear will come to pass. I also predict that a hundred years from now we (or more likely, for most of us, our spiritual descendants) will still be smoking, complaining about the government with good cause, and whining about the loss of the “good old days”. If you have read my past posts you know that I can do all three. If you know my wife she’s told you that I go overboard, getting way too passionate about all three, but what does she know? Would I rather the government keep their filthy hands off my stuff and go after someone else? “You betchum, Red Rider!” and so would you, Oh, get real, you know there’s something. Just look what “they” did to my beloved B&M shops. I mourned for years the passing from our shores of the Dunhill blends. Then they were back, sort of. In the face of the apocalyptic arms race of my youth I never learned to “Stop worrying and love the bomb.” But I have observed countless “Apocalyptic” events come and go. Every few months someone, somewhere predicts another crisis of apocalyptic proportions yet again. If “X” happens then the world we know and all we value most will end. All these crisis’s pass, then fade into the inner recesses of our memory. We march on, having adapted. That has been the fate of every apocalyptic prediction for thousands of years. When the actual apocalypse arrives (if you roll that way) it will be as a thief in the night. No one will predict it, no one will see it coming. Everything less is just a speed bump on history’s roadway. We’ll get by. It generally won’t be easy, it most likely will hurt like hell, but that just means we are still alive and struggling to stay that way as we stake our rightful claim on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (always as we understand it-wherein lies the rub). Yes, I’ll argue, get passionate, I always vote and will take to the streets with the best of them to defend what I believe in. But I try to maintain a sense of what is realistic and pragmatic. Some (although it feels like most) things won’t go the way I think they should, but it isn’t the end of the world. Probably, in the long haul, it isn’t even that big of a deal.
    Please note that I neither offer, nor will I defend any political or religious opinion on this subject. I simply observe, with H.G. Wells that “The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.” Maybe I wouldn’t go quite that far, but maybe I would. In the end we’ll sit down, have a nice smoke and enjoy what we have. Probably at the same time we’ll be complaining that it isn’t like the “good old days” but neither is it as bad as it’s about to get. I predict that we’ll be right.

  • [b]Could the FDA’s “Center for Tobacco Products” be facing [u]civil rights action[/u] as time goes on?[/b]
    Dear Fellow Pipefans:
    Data’s Calabash here…like many of you, I feel the possibility of some serious restrictions from the FDA — completely NONSENSICAL ones, based on conflated science between the two long-existing avenues of tobacco use being forcefully being combined in the “single stream pf prohibition attempts” we’re ALL fed up with hearing about…
    …but with some FIVE HUNDRED FIFTY Federally-recognized, and some sixty additional, state-level recognition Native American tribes in the US, of which I’d bet at least 15% to 25% of which (in the areas of the “lower 48”, mostly east of the Rockies) STILL observe and embrace some degree of civil rights regarding each tribal group’s traditions, culture and ceremonial life which could easily involve tobacco use, I CANNOT imagine the FDA so stupidly blundering into “enhanced regulation of all tobacco products” without some serious degree of legal OR peaceable “direct” action (as Dr. King believed in) being taken by at least a few Native American ethnicities against the FDA (and ANY other Federal agency handling tobacco legality/taxation issues), possibly reinforced by [b]the ACLU[/b] and (just guessing here, folks!) even [u]the Southern Poverty Law Center[/u], in any form of Federally-mandated “tobacco regulation” that has the effect of also destroying the tobacco-related civil rights of ANY Native American tribal group, in regards to any particular tribal ethnicity’s use of tobacco in their own culture.
    I would NOT want to be the Congressperson, or FDA officer, or other “tobacco-related” Federal official considered to be responsible for [b]infringing[/b] on the use of tobacco for ANY reason, by any ethnic group, in the United States of America…
    …and, IF someone IS stupid and callous enough in Washington D.C. to call for the long-rumored AND dreaded $48.00-per-pound excise tax on pipe tobacco to be applied, I would not at all be surprised to see some form of legal action being taken by Native Americans to stop such a degree of ill-intentioned, punitive taxation being levied, likely from any ONE of the over 600 tribal groups of Native Americans that I’ve hinted at here, from such taxation being an inherent infringement of any particular tribal group’s civil rights.
    Perhaps that “upside-down” situation in Washington State could be taken on to start, and get the repeal going of their idiotic 2009-passed pipe tobacco sales-by-mail ban, especially where the legalization of RECREATIONAL ‘wacky-leaf’ in that state achieved the whole “inversion of reality” it’s been suffering from ever since, in regards to safe and legal (tobacco-ONLY) pipe enjoyment? That COULD be a good place to start…
    …but the main event of civil action against the Feds could very likely happen IF ruinously-steep excise taxes for traditional, naturally-sourced pipe mixtures are so idiotically initiated by any agency of the feds in D.C., AND passed into law at any time, especially in the near future.
    Thank you,
    Data’s Calabash

  • Cigarettes are probably the best indicator of what’s to come. In spite of all the legal action over the last decade they are still for sale at any convenience store you walk into. They’re just a lot more expensive than they used to be and that’s not because the price of raw tobacco skyrocketed! For the foreseeable future cigars and pipe tobacco will likely follow the same trend. It will be available but progressively more expensive. Just look at our neighbors to the north or in the EU. They are already there. Maybe smokers need to take a page out of the NRA’s play book. You might not agree with them but no politician in his or her right mind takes them on.

  • I’ve been stocking my cellar for years and figure that I may have enough tobacco to last the rest of my life if I’m forced to beginning rationing. And I’m still stocking up.
    We all should do the same, be it pipe tobacco or cigars.
    I do remember the history of prohibition and what it did to the country and we may see something similar to it happening again if tobacco is prohibited.
    I guess I’ll become a hoarding criminal.

  • I recently was taxed a whopping 42% customs duty on 7 vintage pipes I got for less than $100 on ebay and then got them full restored for $375 ($425 including shipping). The customs duty on pipe tobacco around is 45%, and the only recourse for me is to get tobacco severely undervalued sent by friends and labelled candles or tea sample. They wont ban it, they will just tax it to kingdom come.

  • All this makes me wonder how many consumers of pipe tobacco and cigars has ever fired off an email to their respective elected officials? How many actually vote? Don’t believe that any of this matters? Wrong.
    There are no giant tobacco lobby’s going to bat for anyone and there sure as hell aren’t any Nicaraguan Cigar companies railing against DC so the only voice left is the lowly consumer. If you intend to continue enjoy this hobby it’s in your own best interest to start getting vocal and to start letting these lawmakers know you exist. Ask a Washington politician what he thinks a pipe smoker looks like and he’ll tell you the story of his grandpa. If half of the dialog wasted on forums like this were to be communicated to DC , maybe, just maybe we could get some more reasonable legislation.

  • I’m hardly Conservative enough that I would condemn weed smoking if I happened to enjoy it, but when I tried it while in college I hated it. Didn’t enjoy much being around the typical smoker of that shit either, and not much much more after they had sobered up either. It does seem to alter one’s personality in ways which I don’t feel good about, despite that so many of the world’s greatest thinkers and artists smoke it. But if they think they deserve the right to smoke their shit around me, I won’t object if, and only if they will relax all tobacco laws for equal treatment of tobacco smokers.