Pipe Smoking: A Dialogue On Health and Moderation

I want to talk about something other than books today.  Yes, I know.  I haven’t posted anything in a week and a half.  It’s been a rough week and a half.

I want to talk about pipe smoking.  I want you to talk back.

In case you didn’t know, I enjoy smoking a pipe at the very most once a week.  It’s an excellent past time for me.  I love packing fresh tobacco into a bowl, lighting it up, and slowing down to watch the world speed on by like it’s late for something that doesn’t matter.  It relaxes me and allows me to think and reflect clearly.  It’s even more fun knowing I’m participating in a practically ancient tradition passed down from man to man, generation to generation, and I intend to pass it on to my son (should I ever have a son) when he’s old enough.

The issue with pipe smoking, however, is the long list of health risks and the resulting social stigmas that result from anyone who places something in their mouth that has a lit end to. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been virtually assaulted (sic) with lectures, school assemblies, TV commercials and episode plot, and textbook chapters on why smoking is absolutely horrible for you and you should never do it.  I certainly do not intend to deny the risks associated with smoking; my grandmother passed away about 5 years ago from lung cancer, a result of her smoking cigarettes every day.  It would be foolish to poo-poo medical experts who have really done their homework on this matter.

What I’m getting at here is more of the social stigma associated with smoking anything at all.  It’s unwarranted and, frankly, childish. From what I remember about the onslaught of anti-smoking propaganda that flooded my life when I was younger (and still does) was, in addition to legitimate health risks, was the whole “be cool, don’t smoke” mentality.  This whole idea got pounded into our heads that smokers were/are subhuman, that they were to be ostracized and ridiculed for being so stupid as to pick up a cigarette and light it.  What’s more, this started from the time I was very young and continued up through high school.  For the short period of time when I smoked in my senior year, I had a lot of angry friends who thought they were doing me a favor by getting angry with me and making me feel like less of a human for smoking.  None of it made me quit; I owe that to my grandmother and her cancer diagnosis.  This stigma is less associated with pipe smoking, though I still get the odd look from time to time, as if they were saying, “Why would you ever do that to your body?” and they go back to wolfing down their bacon cheeseburger.

What’s worse is that the government perpetuates the stigma and even goes so far as to regulate where one can smoke.  To date, smoking in bars and restaurants in PA is banned unless you report low food sales, it’s banned in public completely in California, and many states are taking similar measures, making it harder and harder for anyone to smoke, well, anywhere.  What makes me crazy is the government getting behind this whole thing, telling me it’s for my own good, more or less.  How do they get to determine what’s for my own good?

Look, everyone knows the health risks associated with heavy smoking and, to some extent, even moderate cigar and pipe smoking (defined as 1-3 pipes a day by the American Cancer Society), but why the social aspect of it?  Is it really something to be so terrified of that we should never be allowed to go to a cigar shop, buy a Monte Cristo, and enjoy it with friends every now and then?  Despite the major lack of studies regarding the health risks of pipe smoking, should it be lumped in there with all other tobacco products?  Isn’t it the individual right to smoke if you like, regardless of the risks?

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2 thoughts on “Pipe Smoking: A Dialogue On Health and Moderation

  1. Good article Pat. I actually took up pipe smoking earlier this year. Before then, I was a total non-smoker, with no desire for cigarettes or cigars. However, the pipe had this allure that I always found appealing, for some of the very same reasons as you. Unlike the other forms of tobacco, I enjoyed the aroma of a pipe, and admired the image of the classic pipe smoker. There was just something arcane and wonderful about taking time to load and enjoy a bowl of pipe tobacco while reading or writing. It wasn’t like cigarettes, where you could just have one and then another without thought. Pipe smoking took time, and that alone helps keep it from excess.

    It took a long time to finally accept for myself that pipe smoking (and cigars, though I don’t partake myself) were perfectly fine for a Christian to indulge in. Growing up pentecostal, the holiness movement shaped my feelings on drinking and smoking for years until I was able to see past the legalism of it. But having wanted to smoke a pipe since I was a kid, I did research and concluded it wasn’t a sin. It’s not healthy, but neither is a lot of things in this world. Now, I find pipe smoking to be a great compliment to reading and writing. I find I’m much more reflective when I read my devotions when pipe smoking. It’s been a wonderful distraction deterrent.

    Unfortunately, cigarettes have kind of had a negative impact on the other forms of tobacco. The cartoon ads of the 80’s and early 90’s by the like of Joe Camel probably helped start the strong anti-smoking movement for kids. Now we’re being punished because of the greed of executives.

  2. I agree with you on a few points, and disagree on a few.

    It most certainly is the individual right to smoke or not to smoke, just like it is an individual’s right to engage in any number of activities. Of course, we’re operating within the confines of the law, which is why it becomes a dangerous line to walk when talking about individual rights. One could easily extend that argument into a number of illegal activities, meaning, things that you might look at (having not engaged in them) and say that no one should do it, they could argue back that it’s individual choice. I feel like it’s shaky ground for an argument without having a hard time arguing against anything else later.

    I do agree that we shouldn’t beat information into the heads of children, but for a different reason than you seem to put forward. I feel that any sort of “propaganda”, for either good or ill purposes, is something to be avoided and instead we should focus on educating and supporting claims. So instead of trying to hammer an idea of “do this” or “don’t do this”, we should teach children risks, long term effects, etc.

    That being said, you have a right to smoke or not smoke, but you don’t have a right to harm others around you. This is where I fully support bans on public smoking and would even push for harder bans. If you work as a waitress or a bartender and don’t smoke, you shouldn’t have to be exposed to the smoke of your customers and suffer the detriments to your health without any consent. I enjoy the bar atmosphere, but I don’t enjoy returning and smelling like an ashtray to my home. Also, by allowing smoking in public places, you’re saying that smokers (who choose to smoke) have a greater right to be in a place than those suffering from conditions beyond their control (asthma, for example). It seems unfair for the right to actively cause harm to supercede the right to go about your business. To draw an analogy – you have the right (at a certain age) to drink alcohol, but you do not have the right to drive while drinking because it can endanger others around you. I doubt that any would argue that one should be able to drink and drive because of personal choice / choosing to harm one’s self. Being exposed to smoking in public might not have the same immediate dangers as something like drunk driving, but it can cause health issues over time in the event of prolonged exposure and, for some people with respiratory disorders, can cause immediate reactions that endanger their health.

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