In a May post last year about the future of smoking, I made a prediction:
Have we reached a tipping point that will inevitably make smoking socially unacceptable? Or will the increasingly untenable and bizarre claims made by anti-smoking groups propel the movement over the shark, allowing smokers and property rights defenders to push back?
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that, regardless of legal changes, old-fashioned pipe smoking will see a resurgence.
It’s too early to tell if I was right, but this piece in today’s Wall Street Journal is encouraging:
No one tracks how many young men and women are pipe smokers. But sales of pipe tobacco are rising again after years of decline, and many think young smokers are the reason. U.S. sales of pipe tobacco plummeted to 4.9 million pounds in 2006, from 52 million pounds in 1970, says Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America. Sales climbed to 5.3 million pounds in 2008. Pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco sales are on the rise, offsetting over a decade of decreases in cigarette sales.
Pipe-smoking groups on social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have attracted thousands of members. Questions in the forums include: A bent or straight pipe? Does anyone have a favorite perique Louisiana tobacco blend? What is the consensus on corncob pipes?
Sykes Wilford, 28, burned his tongue when he first started smoking a pipe as a freshman at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn. He now walks new smokers through the first puffs in his own store in Little River, S.C., to ensure they don’t meet the same fate. Although he mostly carries traditional pipes, he’s trying to bring a modern edge to the ancient habit. “For me to have an iPhone in one hand and a pipe in the other is not unusual,” he says.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see pipe smoking adopted into hipster culture. It would fit right in with other oddly archaic fashions like handlebar mustaches, vests, and jackets with epaulettes. And lighting up a pipe is an instant conversation starter, conferring status on the smoker. As Richard Hacker writes in the introduction to his Ultimate Pipe Book:
The pipe is a unique invention of Man that has combined his creativity with the elements of nature: fire, earth, water and smoke, all of which co-mingle with the sky. There is a certain mystique to it all, and, perhaps that is why, when you see someone smoking a pipe, you cannot help but think he knows something you do not.
Perhaps more importantly, smoking a pipe is less expensive than smoking cigars or cigarettes, and the tobacco is coming out relatively unscathed from the new SCHIP taxes.