A major divergence between cigar smoking and pipe smoking is the relatively permanent nature of the pipe itself, being a tool used for smoking rather than the tobacco that is actually smoked. Pipe tobacco, then, is provided a degree of separation from the smoker, the smoke taken in through the stem as it passes down the shank's draft channel, keeping the burning leaf held at the fore while the smoker's main interactions are solely with the pipe outside of lighting and tamping.
In contrast, a cigar comprises only tobacco, with the entirety of the smoker's interactions necessitating contact with that tobacco and, by proxy, the full appreciation of its qualities and a more immersive experience, from the feel of the wrapper on the fingers and lips to the aroma of the smoke, the cigar is a direct connection between the tobacco and the smoker. For both pipes and cigars, the tobacco itself does not last; it is consumed and ceases to exist in its useful form, though in the case of a pipe's tobacco, there's likely to be some left inside the tin or sachet, whereas a cigar is completely depleted. Regardless of the amount of tobacco left in a tin, the one major constant in pipe smoking is the pipe itself: Unless it's burned out while smoking, the pipe will remain, able to perform indefinitely so long as it's taken care of.
... the one major constant in pipe smoking is the pipe itself
The ephemeral nature of the tobacco we smoke might be displayed by both methods, but it's truly exemplified by the process of smoking a cigar, as the entirety of the experience depends on its near-full consumption by flame, and all that is left afterward are neat piles of ash that reflect not only its prior form but the way that the flame impacted that form. The neat ridges of the ash and their small fissures combine with the faint mirage of the interior bunched leaf to deliver a delicate memory of time spent with its former self.
Each cigar is a self-contained expression of the blender's ideals, a carefully crafted synthesis of each tasting note and aroma meant to reflect the best qualities of all the tobacco used, each component working together harmoniously to achieve this goal. In a way, pipe tobacco is similar, as each individual blend is devised by a master blender and follows a specific set of instructions to arrive at the finished product, using measured amounts of each varietal to create its own bouquet of flavors, though at arguably a larger scale, depending on the manufacturer.
Experiential Difference Between Cigars and Pipes
One of the key differences between the two is the way each relates to the ceremony of imbibing tobacco, because that is what the act of smoking a pipe or cigar is: a ceremony, a ritual. Smoking a pipe, rubbing out tobacco, packing it just so, and applying the charring light are all in service to the pipe, with the pipe as the chalice. These steps make the experience better for the smoker, but ultimately they are performed in a way that holds the pipe in the highest regard, from open airflow, to an even burn, or avoiding tobacco spilling from the chamber.
The pipe here is the vessel, and it serves to connect human to tobacco in a way that makes it something of a sacred object, the object of obsession for many of us, myself included. With regard to cigars in this ritualistic consideration, the cigar as a whole is the chalice and what is imbibed. In this respect, the cigar becomes the sacred object of the ceremony, and every step in preparing it is fully in service to the cigar and the experience of smoking it.
The Importance of Tradition and Ritual
In either case, the ritual of smoking provides opportunity for reflection, not only on the nature of the pastime or the objects of obsession which relate to it, but the collective passion and rich tradition standing behind it. The ability to connect with this tradition and to watch as it continuously evolves makes the ritual of smoking all the more special, especially as we support those who contribute to its continual advancement through enjoying the fruits of their labor. In a meditative sense, this kind of relationship strengthens our connection with the hobby, though for true immersion in its experiences, we must foster a new appreciation in ourselves. The most straightforward manner of elevating both pipes and cigars in the mind is to see them not just as tools, accessories, or methods of smoking, but as art, or at the very least an artful expression of a craft's long-held traditions.
... the ritual of smoking provides opportunity for reflection
With regard to pipes, this feat is quite easy, as they are not only part of a richly storied craft that's endured for centuries, but are almost immediately recognizable as sculpture, especially in the case of artisan pieces. Through this artistic lens, further value is ascribed, and their manner of crafting adds to this value, with pieces from highly experienced, highly regarded artisans commanding greater interest and a higher price thanks to their provenance and quality of construction.
The foremost thing a pipe must do before anything else, however, is smoke well, and this attribute is actually a sign of artistry in pipe making, regardless of external features, as useful pipes can be beautiful simply because they are useful. A pipe, artfully considered, is a direct connection to the individual who carved it, the result of that person's artistic intent and their interpretation of the medium, not to mention a reflection of their presence in and impact on the craft itself.
... useful pipes can be beautiful simply because they are useful
As the chalice in its particular smoking ritual, the pipe's bridge between the tobacco and the smoker is impacted by this more personal, intimate connection while providing a link to the history of the art form. Ultimately, a pipe is impacted little by the concept of ephemerality, and better represents permanence, transcending time and passed from generation to generation to become part of a family's history. Pipes are symbols of stability, companions that persevere for decades, changing slowly over time, providing ample opportunity to ponder the nature of that slow change and what the concept of stability means to the individual.
Considering cigars as art is arguably the more contentious of the two concepts, much of which is thanks to the ephemeral nature of their existence. How can something be art when its ultimate purpose is to be destroyed? How can we appreciate the qualities of an object when doing so not only inexorably changes those qualities but continues to change them as it is experienced? It's beneficial when pondering these questions to think not of cigars, but of food, considering whether a lovingly crafted meal is art, or the scientific approach of Molecular Gastronomy, even the entirety of a painstakingly crafted seven-course meal. As related to cooking, the techniques utilized by the chef, all of the organization of which occurred beforehand, and every bit of plating create a dish which can only be properly enjoyed if destroyed by being consumed.
... can something be art when its ultimate purpose is to be destroyed?
Depending on the dish or the chef, these techniques can be artful in their own right, but they contribute to creating something more than the sum of its parts, something beautiful in its own right, but must be consumed to be experienced. Of course, the vast majority of dishes can be recreated given the right resources, and the same is true of cigars, or music, or sculpture, or a number of other mediums. Still, precious few of those categories engage the gustatory system save for culinary or nicotinian pursuits.
Though what defines something as art has been debated in the realm of philosophy for centuries, two primary definitions have been accepted as at least reasonably accurate: a product created with a communicatory or aesthetic purpose; and/or a product that expresses technical proficiency. Both of these definitions would encapsulate the realm of premium cigars, especially with regard to boutique brands. Were we to draw comparisons from visual art, both cooking and cigars would comfortably fit inside the sphere of expressionistic art, communicating the feelings and intentions of the chef or blender through a medium to be consumed. In either case, the final product is destroyed through the process of aesthetic appreciation, making each instance of this appreciation unique despite the blend or recipe being reproducible, as the circumstances surrounding the experience and the smaller, less controllable aspects of its creation can all be dramatically different.
... what defines something as art has been debated in the realm of philosophy for centuries
Cigars though, unlike food, can be aged, stored indefinitely in the right conditions, and evolving in mysterious ways until the time is right, lending even further variety to the experience and allowing the smoker to imbue the cigar with a degree of their own aesthetic vision. However, these aspects of flavor enhancement and personal collaboration do not change the reality that a cigar must be smoked to appreciate its character, and, unless it is shared with someone, can be experienced only by a single individual. In this way, the ritualistic aspect of cigar smoking reflects a sense of almost melancholic transience, the knowledge that all of its components will vanish, that the taste, aroma, and feel will fade in a short time, during which it's natural to reflect on the transient nature of one's own existence, to recall fleeting moments of joy that have stayed in one's consciousness, or to consider one's appreciation for life, perhaps in a new light. At the conclusion of the ritual, the chalice is drained, its substance removed as it, too, fades away, its memory itself an aesthetic experience and a contribution to the historic art of tobacco.