Smoking: Put That in Your Pipe

As an act of rebellion against political correctness, pipe smoking is hard to beat.


The end of the last century saw the birth of two Germans who are among the most famous individuals in history: Adolf Hitler, the bloodthirsty dictator, and Albert Einstein, the peace-loving scientific genius. Both men held strong views about smoking, and it is worth examining their opinions as we approach the end of the current century. This is especially true in light of the bills pending in Congress that would ban smoking in buildings open to the public, raise tobacco taxes by huge percentages, and regulate tobacco as a drug.

Hitler was a zealot about many things, so it is not surprising that he was an extremist on the subject of smoking, which he considered vile and disgusting. "Adolf Hitler was a fanatical opponent of tobacco," reports Time. He was fond of proclaiming that women of the Third Reich did not smoke at all, even though many of them did. In his fascinating book Cigarettes Are Sublime, Richard Klein, a professor of French at Cornell University, writes that Hitler was "a fanatically superstitious hater of tobacco smoke."

Einstein, on the other hand, was very passionate about his pipe smoking. During one lecture, he ran out of pipe tobacco and borrowed some cigarettes from his students so he could crumple the tobacco into his pipe. "Gentlemen," he said, "I believe we've made a great discovery!" He later decided that his conclusion was premature. He realized that cigarette tobacco lacks the aroma, the fullness, and the taste of pipe tobacco. But what appealed most to Einstein was the entire ritual of pipe smoking: carefully choosing from a variety of pipes and tobaccos, delicately loading the briar, puffing and tamping, and the associated contemplation. "I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs," he said in 1950 at age 71, when he became a lifetime member of the Montreal Pipe Smokers Club.

Fanatical intolerance, as opposed to moderation and consideration, is at the heart of the smoking debate in America today. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants to ban smoking in the workplace. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has proposed what he calls the Smoke-Free Environment Act, which would prohibit smoking in any building that is entered by 10 or more people at least one day a week (except residences, so far). What if the building is privately owned and its owner wants to smoke? Too bad. His private building will be classified as a "public facility." I am a successful entrepreneur who is responsible for sending millions of tax dollars to the state and federal governments each year—from my own taxes, from my company, from our shareholders, from our employees, from our clients, and from our vendors. This tax money finances politicians seeking to pass laws forbidding me to smoke a pipe in my own office.

In addition to the proposed smoking bans, the Clinton health plan would raise the tax on certain cigars by more than 3,000 percent, on pipe tobacco by nearly 2,000 percent, and on chewing tobacco by more than 10,000 (!) percent. Supporters of these tax hikes should read some history. King James I of England, who hated smoking as much as Henry Waxman does, raised tobacco taxes by 4,000 percent. Instead of stamping out tobacco use, he created a huge black market.

David Kessler, head of the Food and Drug Administration, wants to regulate tobacco as a drug, which under the agency's usual standards would probably mean banning it. (Can you imagine what our overcrowded prisons would be like if tobacco were banned?) New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen praises Kessler, as well as the "courageous" members of Congress who are eager to suspend the First Amendment by restricting tobacco advertising.

Smoking has been around for hundreds of years, and it won't go away, regardless of legislation. The Los Angeles Times recently observed: "Russia once whipped smokers, Turkey beheaded them and India slit their noses. The Massachusetts colony outlawed public smoking in the 1630s, and Connecticut required smokers to have permits in the 1940s. At various times between 1893 and 1921, cigarette sales were banned in North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Iowa, Tennessee, Arkansas, Illinois, Utah, Kansas and Minnesota." Despite such efforts, about a billion people around the world continue to smoke.

As Klein, the Cornell professor, notes, there is a direct link between freedom and the right to smoke. He writes: "Like other tyrants such as Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Hitler, James I despised smoking and demonized tobacco. The relation between tyranny and the repression of the right to grow, sell, use, or smoke tobacco can be seen most clearly in the way movements of liberation, revolutions both political and cultural, have always placed those rights at the center of their political demands. The history of the struggle against tyrants has been frequently inseparable from that of the struggle on behalf of the freedom to smoke."

Cigarette smokers are reluctant to speak out against anti-smoking measures. It is difficult to be a moderate cigarette smoker, and the typical cigarette smoker is clearly at risk of suffering heart attacks, lung cancer, and emphysema. Despite these health hazards, adults have a right to continue smoking cigarettes. But I hope they will consider pipe smoking as an alternative. The difference between chain-smoking cigarettes and moderate pipe smoking is the difference between drinking a case of beer every day and having a glass of wine with lunch or dinner.

Pipe smoking is a fun hobby. It is relaxing. It tastes good. It feels good. It helps us unwind. It helps us cope with stress. It enhances objectivity. It facilitates contemplation. People like Waxman and Kessler never mention these intangible benefits. They just want to know if the activity in question is "good for you" in a strict biological sense. If not, or if they think it is bad for you, they will attempt to outlaw it. This sort of reasoning would also support a ban on obesity, a requirement that all Americans exercise, the prohibition of junk food, limits on alcohol and caffeine consumption, and so on. The irony is that Waxman is, frankly, a little chubby, while Kessler used to be fat (and yo-yo dieting is quite unhealthy).

Compare these two with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is as healthy as a horse and a dedicated cigar and occasional pipe smoker. I work out regularly myself. I have even trained with Arnold. In fact, I am something of a health nut. I go for a five-mile run at least once a week as part of my exercise program, which includes a minimum of four hours of strenuous workouts each week. I am in terrific physical condition. Yet I'm put on the defensive and treated as a pariah because I enjoy a pipe.

Our tax money is used to sponsor anti-smoking propaganda—official hate speech from the state. Anti-smoking billboards and TV commercials are aimed at encouraging the average citizen to loathe smoking and, by implication, smokers. Several days ago, I was standing on a street corner in Santa Monica waiting for the light to turn green. A city bus with an anti-smoking message on the side passed by, spewing filthy exhaust fumes. I crossed the street and entered the Tinder Box, a tobacco shop that was founded when Calvin Coolidge was president. The aroma was magnificent. I chatted with the store's founder, Ed Kolpin, who has come to work every day since 1928. He was puffing on his pipe, looking very contented. Ed attributes his good health and long life to the sense of peace that 65 years of relaxed and intelligent pipe smoking have given him.

Ed reminded me of a story about François Guizot, the French historian and statesman. A woman visited Guizot at his home one evening and found him absorbed in his pipe. She exclaimed, "What! You smoke, and yet have arrived at so great an age?" "Ah, madame," he said in reply, "if I had not smoked, I should have been dead 10 years ago." I believe we would have heard similar replies from many other famous pipe smokers who lived long and healthy lives, including Albert Schweitzer, Mark Twain, F.A. Hayek, Carl Sandburg, Bing Crosby, and Norman Rockwell.

An article in the Summer 1990 issue of The Compleat Smoker describes an interesting longevity study conducted in Pennsylvania during the late '60s and early '70s. An organization called No Other World performed the research with the assistance of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Lung Association and regional chapters of the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. "In the study," reports The Compleat Smoker, "pipe smokers attained an average age of 78—two years older than their non-smoking male counterparts." This may say something about the stress-reducing benefits of pipe smoking. At the very least, it suggests that moderate pipe smoking is not a significant health hazard.

I began smoking a pipe in 1978, at the age of 28. At the time, I was a two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker. I could not run a mile without collapsing from wheezing, and on many nights my hacking cough woke me up. There was no way for me to be a moderate cigarette smoker. I decided that cigarettes were poison for me, but I still wanted to smoke, so I tried a pipe.

It took a while to get the hang of it. I suffered tongue bite; I broke one pipe because I didn't know how to handle it; I was not used to smoking without inhaling; I smoked way too fast and burned the briar on several pipes—and made a dozen other mistakes typical of the beginning pipe smoker. Pipe smoking is a ritual that requires patience and study. You can't just go to a drugstore, buy the least expensive pipe you can find, and expect to enjoy the smoke. It can take years of study and practice before your enjoyment reaches that point of contentment that only professional pipe smokers know.

When it comes to pipes, I'm strictly a beginning student. Christopher Morley wrote in 1916 that "pipe smoking is properly an intellectual exercise." I have read 17 books on the subject and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of articles, and I still learn something new every time I visit a knowledgeable tobacconist. The best overview of the subject I've seen is The Ultimate Pipe Book by Richard Carleton Hacker, a fact-filled volume written in an interesting and fun style. Pipe collecting as a hobby has become such a passion for me that I own nearly 200 pipes, some dating back to the 1920s and '30s. I know the history of nearly all of them and the biography of the pipe carver. There may be only a few pipe smokers left, but we are intelligent and dedicated.

If smoking has any future at all, it lies in moderate pipe smoking. I realize excessive pipe and cigar smoking can contribute to some forms of mouth, throat, or lip cancer, but it is the excess that is the problem. It is relatively easy, with time and practice, to be a moderate pipe smoker.

As a statement of rebellion against political correctness, it's hard to beat pipe smoking. It's not nearly as risky as smoking cigarettes, and it offers unique pleasures. A whole new world of enjoyment will open up for you once you start discovering the various types of briar, the thousands of blends of exquisite tobaccos from all over the world, the hundreds of traditional and unusual shapes, sizes, and finishes for a pipe, and the possibilities for beautiful artwork carved into meerschaum and briar pipes. Remember the advice of this century's greatest scientist: Pipe smoking facilitates relaxation and objectivity. Also keep in mind that Einstein did not worry about defying convention. And to be a pipe smoker in America in the 1990s, you really must be an individualist.

Rick Newcombe is president and CEO of Creators Syndicate.