Smoke ’em While You Got ’em

Fred Brown
For the pipe smoking world, 2013 hasn’t been much of a "smoking" ("hot") year.

Oh sure, recently we’ve had plenty of innovation (and re-innovation) in tobacco blends (Three Nuns and Capstan redux come to mind). And there have been vast strides made in pipe-making from absolutely astounding artisans.

The crafts of tobacco-blending and pipe-making are in a kind of renaissance, maybe even an artistic revolution. Perchance it’s not too far off to say that pipes and tobaccos are going through an Age of Enlightenment.

Even though truly masterful pipes are being turned out and tobacco blends have never been better, the truth is that all is not well in tobaccoland.

Pipe smokers are perhaps the last family of independent thinkers on a global scale. And in 2013 they were firmly placed on the endangered species list.

With rising complaints from the antis, pipe smokers, Homo sapiens Erica arborea, have existed under a black cloud for many years now, but 2013 became an exceptionally bad time for the genus.

You could almost hear the thump, thump, thump of the big footfalls coming up behind us. The big boys, the really big boys, are after the lowly pipe smokers—men and women who simply enjoy a pipe bowl of tobacco leaf from time to time.

Congress, when it wasn’t shutting itself down or shooting itself in the foot, took dead aim at pipe tobacco this past year. The Food and Drug Administration changed heads, from a scientist to a lawyer, and began tightening its grip on tobacco policy enforcement.

Two bills made it to Congress in 2013 that, if passed and signed into law, will rearrange the furniture in retail and online tobacco shops and alter pipe smoking as we know it.

That bit of news set off a feeding frenzy of sorts within the pipe smoking community, which has seen the enemy and produced hoarders of pipe tobacco. We discuss how much poundage we have in our cellars on popular forums. Good grief, Charlie Brown.

We talk of pounds of tobacco being squirreled away in our homes, man caves, (man caves!), in closets, beneath beds and in Styrofoam coolers!

On some pipe forums ( in particular) the hoarding has even taken on drama. We are hoarding tobacco to stay the time of the "Tobaccolypse."

At the first whiff of rising taxes in late 2012 and the first of 2013, pipe smokers began buying up large quantities of tobacco tins and bags, hoping to create a buffer between themselves and the perceived coming tax increases and hikes in pipe tobacco prices.

Much of the recent scare derives from two congressional bills now inching their way through congress.

But, if either of these ill-begotten bills becomes law, then the "Tobaccolypse," will transfigure itself from mere bad dream to reality.

One of the worst bills was authored by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., near the end of April. Introduced as the Tobacco Tax and Enforcement Reform Act, what this bill does essentially, among its more draconian elements, is increase federal excise taxes on pipe tobacco.

You can read the bill’s summary here.

The Tobacco Tax Equity Act of 2013 was authored by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the congressman pipe smokers love to hate.

This bit of skullduggery legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide what Durbin calls the "tax rate parity among all tobacco products."

Durbin’s tax rate parity would tax pipe tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco at $24.78 per pound instead of $2.8311 per pound as it is today.

And the bill finishes up with this flurry, in very clear, uncluttered terms, defining for all to understand just what a tobacco product is: "The term `tobacco products’ means "(1) cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco, and "(2) any other product containing tobacco that is intended or expected to be consumed."

And, if you don’t quite grasp the above language, Durbin added that "Any product" described in his bill that the Food and Drug Administration has declared to be a tobacco product, will be "taxed at a level of tax equivalent to the tax rate for cigarettes on an estimated per use basis."

Both bills, by the way, were helped along by some crossbreeding. Lautenberg received co-sponsorship service from Sen. Durbin and Durbin’s doozy was co-sponsored by Lautenberg.

Both of these alarming bills are in committee, which means they could remain in the form in which they are currently constructed, or they could come out wobbling in some new zombie-like feature added on by some other congressmen.

Looking ahead to the New Year there are some really bright and fun spots, maybe even some "smoking" hot spots.

Some of the pipes being created today are, well, phenomenal. Of course, classic shapes abound. The Italians continue to just chisel out beautiful pipes with some sort of old world magic, and English and other Euro-craftsmen are solid.

But many of the Euro-innovators, like Alex Florov, fashion pipes that look as if they might just take off and fly away. They are just incredible to study and to wonder, "How did he do that with a briar burl?"

If you search on the Internet and run across the Ukrainian artisan Konstantin Shekita, you might just scratch a hole in your head attempting to figure out how he found a way to weave pipes like rattan strips. Amazing work!

Some of the artisan offerings from Maigurs Knets of Latvia, who SMC says he "interprets the classics into very Art Nouveau sculptures," appear as if they might run off instead of walking away.

Werner Mummert, a German pipe-maker, has some creations that seem to have been speared right through the gullet in some sort of "Hunger Games" contest. Other pipes off his workshop table make you think of some industrial-strength thing with green and orange and yellow squares. Awesome!

And, of course, there is the steampunk pipe movement. Honestly, those are the Megalodons of pipe smoking. But, they are fun, fun, fun. Many of the pipes resemble steam pipes screwed together with elbow joints.

And then there are any number of fine craftsmen who take on the whales and blowfish shapes. These are not your grandfather’s pipes.

Yes, the art of pipe-making and tobacco-blending are still in good hands. We have a great year ahead, a "smoking hot" (not bowl hot, that is) year.

That is, if we can just keep politicians from trampling all over our precious tobacco leaf, our rights and trying to wipe us out, making us endangered no more, but extinct.



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


13 Responses

  • This article paints a very scary, yet beautiful picture for the future of pipe smoking.
    Great read!

  • ” That bit of news set off a feeding frenzy of sorts within the pipe smoking community, which has seen the enemy and produced hoarders of pipe tobacco. We discuss how much poundage we have in our cellars on popular forums. Good grief, Charlie Brown.
    We talk of pounds of tobacco being squirreled away in our homes, man caves, (man caves!), in closets, beneath beds and in Styrofoam coolers!
    On some pipe forums ( in particular) the hoarding has even taken on drama. We are hoarding tobacco to stay the time of the “Tobaccolypse.”
    You can definitely count me in as one of those who has been building a cellar because of this pending legislation. Besides the obvious price increases we could be looking at, there is the definite possibility that many of our favorite blends will be discontinued due to lost sales and possible closings of mfgs whose sales will be dramatically affected by said legislation. I have seen some of my favorite blends disappear over the years and I for one will not have that happen to me again.
    I find it only prudent to plan for the future and refuse to be left to the mercy of those legislators bent on our destruction. If that makes me a hoarder then so be it, but since I have completed my 25 year supply of tobacco, I am feeling very secure that I will be able to continue smoking my favorites for the next 25 years. I don’t consider building a tobacco cellar as hoarding, hoarding to me means stocking up on food and gas and other essentials to live. Since tobacco is a luxury item, the use of the word hoarding is misleading and an improper use of the word.
    Since tobacco will never be cheaper than it is today, I believe every pipe smoker should concentrate on building their cellars now to the exclusion of building their pipe collections. No legislation is pending that will affect pipe makers so why take the chance of having to pay 25 dollars a tin in the next few years when you can pay 10.00 today. We just have to look at Canada and Europe and Australia to see our tobacco future.
    Your reference ” Good grief Charlie Brown” makes it sound like we are being impractical or we feel the sky is falling with our tobacco buying when the reality is we are just being smart about what the future holds for us. Your article makes it sound like we are being silly for worrying about the future of tobacco prices and that HOARDING( wrong terminology in my mind) is somehow a bad thing. Cellaring is the word I would use and how many people build wine cellars or cigar cellars and are not called hoarders?

  • Welcome back, Fred! A very thoughtful article, accurately summarizing the year in pipe smoking; inspiring and frightening at the same time.

  • Glad to see your writing again! Thanks for the perspective, and a healthy reminder of the results of complacency. Everyone should write their congressmen now!

  • Great article. And welcome back. Like Harris, I think it only prudent to maintain and add to my cellar. I don’t think the term hoarding is really appropriate, because we, like wine enthusiasts, or cigar humidor specialists, realize that our stocks only improve with age. In other words, creating a cellar is a wise thing to do. Especially in this day and age, where tobacco will never be cheaper than it is today.

  • Thanks for the welcome back, fellows. It is great to be back in the stable.
    Harris, didn’t mean to dis anyone building a cellar. I think it is wise, actually. It is better to be safe than sorry, and I do think it will get worse before it gets better, if it gets better.
    But, I get your point.

  • In S.826 Lautenberg’s bill, tax increases of 194% for both small cigars and cigarettes and 199% on roll-your-own tobacco seem pretty absurd. I mean, if they were to double the taxes on anything, who wouldn’t flip their lid? But for pipe tobacco…a freaking 1,750% increase?! Yes, that’s a comma, not a decimal point…ONE THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY PERCENT?! How about we try increases the taxes on fuel like this and see what happens when everyone has to pay $50/gallon to fill up their car. Better yet, let’s try it with alcohol!
    I really think they haven’t even thought about the consequences these bills would have on such a small industry. Between ridiculously increased prices and drop in demand from those prices, it’s very possibly it could nearly wipe it out.

  • I don’t hoard with only about 4 lbs. cellared. I do homebrew. They’ll be coming after us homebrewers next. Greedy bastards go to hell where they belong. In this life and the next.

  • Thanks for getting all political, Fred- someone needed to do it. That’s not draconian, that’s scorched earth policy, especially since most Americans have never met a pipe smoker. I’m not a hoarder either, having only recently increased my supply to maybe 3 pounds or so. Obviously, what’s crawled up the butts of these pols is nothing more than ignorance, expediency, and the fires of fanaticism. Nothing that a length of rope wouldn’t cure. Why not just ban candles, incense and potpourri while they’re at it?. How about perfume and varnish? Now that diesel fuel has been found to be cancerous, that should be the first thing that should have its price increased a thousand fold. Pardon the hyperbole.

  • Nice post , great to be brought up to date on all the measures that the ruling elite have in store for us. I for one think we should not so much think of buying tobacco and storing it for what is to come but instead fight back against these measures buy an elite group of bullies that would like to micro manage every aspect of our lives. Remember this is the same group that has devalued our dollar, put us into wars with no end in site, spied on us and have allowed unconstitutional laws to be forced on us. Lets start figuring out exactly who they are and do all we can to get them voted out of office. I believe more people are effected by booze and legal and non legal drugs yet these bums don’t go after these industries if anything they look to aid them. Lets start with Turban Durban and making him understand that he will be joining the private sector soon.