Pipe Smoking Stereotypes

Tobacco smoking is accompanied by stereotypes: the cigar-smoking captain of industry, for example, or the pipe-smoking absent-minded professor. Cigarette smoking is an entirely different subject with all kinds of interpretations: Busy, anti-establishment, bohemian, harried — it defies easy categorization.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is an example of someone who uses smoking stereotypes to his advantage. He's best known as a cigar smoker, promoting his powerful and successful image, while he also lets folks know that he likes an occasional pipe, elevating an impression of thoughtfulness and understanding. He has used the stereotypes to his advantage.

But for the rest of us, stereotypes are mainly irritating. These days, because no one can smoke in public, fewer comments arise, but they're still there and come even from friends and family. And it may be tougher on newer smokers of younger ages.

stereotypes are mainly irritating

I was 24 when I started smoking, and most people assumed it was an affectation. I was trying too hard, they thought, to appear more intelligent, more sophisticated, older. "Aren't you too young to smoke a pipe?" No, I was not. I smoked because I liked smoking, and it was bothersome that people thought I had any other motivation.

A drive-through bank teller once said to me, "You're too young to smoke a pipe." That seemed a presumptuous declarative statement. They didn't know anything about me except that I drove a car, smoked a pipe, and was withdrawing $40, but they thought it appropriate to comment. I thought about saying, "You're too old to be a bank teller," but I refrained.

Once when I was backing out of a parking spot in Clearwater, Florida, a cop walking by saw me smoking and tapped on the hood of my car to stop me. I stopped because of my healthy respect for police officers. I'd learned this respect by being mouthy and sarcastic with cops in New Orleans one night when I had an opinion about how a couple of drunks were being aggressively arrested. (Note: In my experience, New Orleans cops have no sense of humor). Because the repercussions were unpleasant (I was suddenly no longer a mere spectator to the arrests), I thenceforth altered my approach with officers. It's generally counterproductive to have my type of personality in any situation, but I learned to modify it under particular circumstances.

This officer approached my window and motioned that I should roll it down (we rolled windows down manually back then — simple times). I was smoking an English blend and saw him smell the air. "I just wanted to warn you to be careful backing out; traffic is pretty thick." And he walked away.

That left me thinking. I didn't see him stop any of the other cars backing out of parking spots. Why did he think that I, in particular, would benefit from this obvious trivia? I suspect it was my pipe and relative youth. But I wonder if he wanted to make sure it was tobacco I was smoking. It's hard for young pipe smokers; no one thinks they smoke just to enjoy it.

We've all probably heard some variation on the hilarious question, "Hey, what're you smoking in that pipe, hahaha?" The tone of the question implies that we should be amused by their accusatory witticism, but those of us tired of this jocularity have probably replied, "It's a Virginia/Perique blend, aged three years to mellow the flavor." Comebacks are few.

It's always guys who do this. Women, in contrast, think we smell like their grandfathers. There's something humbling, when you're 25, about an attractive woman commenting that you remind her of her grandfather. Yet we smoke anyway.

Many people believe that only older men smoke pipes. They're wrong. Lots of younger people are smoking pipes. Smoke shops report, anecdotally, more and more people in their 20s gravitating to pipes. But the image that advanced from the 1800s to the mid 20th century was linked to people like Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Walter Cronkite, and the like.

Lots of younger people are smoking pipes

However, things are changing. When I started attending pipe shows, most of the people there were older than I. Now they're younger, in their 20s and 30s, whereas the early shows that I attended were awash with smokers in their 50s and 60s, pipes protruding from their beards. (And what's the deal with pipe smokers of all ages and beards? Few lack whiskers. That's one reason it's refreshing to see more women smoking pipes: for the change in facial terrain.)

It's not only that I'm old myself now and everyone looks young, but thanks for bringing that to my attention, I appreciate it. Pipe smoking has been embraced by people who are violating the stereotypes. They're pipe smokers, and they don't care what people expect of them. That's a characteristic of pipe smokers that has not become a stereotype, but if anything should be, it's their independence. Maybe the stereotypes and unsolicited comments endured by pipe smokers over time forge in them fierce independence.

Pipe smoking has been embraced by people who are violating the stereotypes

Einstein did some good work, but he may have helped push the image of pipe smokers to that of a cerebral, academic type. However, pipe smokers fall into all professions and personalities and pursue a variety of interests. Still, they do tend to be pretty smart.

The most intelligent person I ever knew was not a professor. He was a farmer who lived a couple of miles away when I was a boy. He invented all sorts of labor-saving devices to make his farm run efficiently, and he read at least two books a week. He could talk expertly on virtually any subject, from engineering to astrophysics to 18th-century British literature and the socioeconomic pressures of the Civil War. He knew his animals, the land, the weather, and had an uncanny ability to understand machinery. He built electric and internal combustion motors of all sizes, from scrap, to do everything from open his barn doors to pump water into animal troughs. He invented a system that removed silt from his pond and simultaneously supplement his cornfields. He smoked the same pipe every day and never cleaned it, so his interests didn't touch on better smoking properties. A pipe to him was a simple nicotine delivery system, and he did not fit the stereotypes.

We should probably remember that the majority of pipe smokers do not read about pipes and tobacco, they do not study the internal engineering of various pipe types or the history of individual brands, and they buy the same drug store tobacco day after day. Those of us who pursue pipe smoking as a hobby above and beyond simple tobacco combustion are the minority.

Whatever our interest level regarding pipe smoking, we endure the same stereotypes. Sometimes it's fun and we like being perceived as thoughtful or insightful, no matter our jobs or personality types. Generally, pipe smokers are seen in a positive light, and there's some advantage there, perhaps. The stereotypes are changing and dissolving, though. We're harder to define now. Our ranks include every profession, sexual orientation, political viewpoint, race, religion, gender, and philosophical understanding of the world. We've defied the stereotypes, and perhaps over time, others will stop drawing conclusions about us, as they should about every stereotype that exists.

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Humor Pipe Culture satire


    • Seth on November 12, 2021
    • If I had a dollar for everytime someone asked me what's in my pipe, I could afford several Dunhills. I recollect it wasn't a week or two after I had my first bowl that a beard took residence on my face and has been here ever since. I do believe facial hair is attracted to the aroma of pipe smoke.

    • Dan on November 12, 2021
    • Once I had a coworker ask me if I felt rich while smoking my pipe. I guess that the mere act of smoking my pipe gave off some kind of air of snobbish superiority that can sometimes be associated with wealth, despite the fact that my work clothes are comprised of mud spattered (sometimes ripped up) jeans, t-shirts, flannels, and muddy steel toe boots. And I have caught myself in thoughtful poses while puffing away, maybe to the perceiving onlooker I would appear to be contemplating the mysteries of the Universe and the meaning of life when in truth I'm just vegging out.

    • D. on November 13, 2021
    • To comment on the subject of facial hair, if all the dwarves and wizards would shave off their beards in the LOTR and Hobbit movie trilogies... their pipe stems would appear to be longer (nudge nudge wink wink).

    • D on November 13, 2021
    • I've been subject to the "haha, weed" thing more than enough, especially given that I'm young and it's legal here. Fact of the matter is, I do have an occasional puff, but I use an entirely separate pipe, which was cheaply acquired from a shop specializing in such things. I've also been subject to comparison with grandfathers, but I take that as a compliment. I was once told that, pipe in mouth, I was the spitting image of my own grandfather, a man I deeply respected. As for smoking in public, well, much like the cigarette smokers who make up the majority of persons over 15 in my town, I simply ignore the signs in outdoor areas, as is the custom here, although we aren't so bold or inconsiderate as to smoke indoors or in dining areas. As a result, I've been subject to a fair bit of commentary, but grandfather comparisons aside, what sticks with me most is that, no matter what I'm smoking, at least one person will say they like the smell, which I imagine is an unusual reaction in other places where smoking has been declining rather than staying the same or even rising.

    • D. on November 13, 2021
    • ,,,Dressed up like a million-dollar trooperTryin' hard to look like Gary Cooper (Super duper)Come let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks or briar pipes in their mittsPuttin' on the Ritz...Now if you're blue and don't know where to go to why don't you go where social conformity dies... SMOKINGPIPES

    • Dan on November 13, 2021
    • Have you seen the well-to-doUp and down Park Avenue?On that famous thoroughfareWith their noses in the airHigh hats and Arrow collarsWhite spats and lots of dollarsSpending every dime for a wonderful pipe...Different types who wear a day coat, pants with stripesAnd cutaway coat, perfect fitsPuttin' on the ritz...Now if you're blue and don't know where to go to why don't you go where social conformity dies... SMOKINGPIPES

    • Tampaholic on November 13, 2021
    • Now if you're blue and you don't know where to go to why don't you go where fashion sits...Puffin's on the Ritz

    • Tampaholic on November 13, 2021
    • *Puffin' on the Ritz🎶🎶🎶

    • Final draft? on November 13, 2021
    • Have you seen the well-to-do, Up and down Park Avenue? On that famous thorough fare, With their noses in the air, High hats and Arrow collars, White spats and lots of dollars, Spending every dime for a wonderful pipe🎶Now if you're blue and you don't know where to go to why don't you go where fashion sits...Puffin' on the Ritz🎵 Different types who wear a day coat, pants with stripes, And cutaway coat, perfect fits, Puffin' on the ritz🎶 Dressed up like a million-dollar trooper, Tryin' hard to look like Gary Cooper (Super duper) Come let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks or briar pipes in their mitts, Puffin' on the Ritz🎵 Now if you're blue and you don't know where to go to why don't you go where social conformity dies... @ SMOKINGPIPES

    • Tom Trenbeath on November 14, 2021
    • When asked about the contents of my smoldering briar I reply, “It’s my special mixture of sheep shit and alfalfa.” Invariably that draws a laugh.

    • Skip on November 14, 2021
    • Started smoking a pipe aboard an aircraft carrier when I was 21, for no other reason than 4 out of the 10 guys in my 2×4 shop on the hangar bay smoked 'em, and I thought it was cool, 50 years Katerina enjoying my ancient Savinelli I purchased for 9 dollars in the exchange in Naples. Why didn't I buy 4 of 'em?Keep on puffin

    • Bob on November 14, 2021
    • Like many pipe smokers, I started smoking a pipe in college. I saw a lot of guys around campus smoking pipes and I was interested to try it myself. (By the way this was back in the Jurassic period- you were allowed to smoke IN CLASS back then, which many of the students- and professors- took advantage of. ) Even as I grew older, people I met seemed intrigued by the fact I was a pipe smoker adrift in a sea of cigarette smokers. I am pleased to hear that younger people are rediscovering the pleasures of pipe smoking, although all the young people I see seem to prefer vaping. Pipe smoking is a pleasurable experience as well as an interesting hobby and I have met some great people in the pipe smoking community.

    • Cytron Marvin S on November 14, 2021
    • Our father smoked a pipe, and his three sons followed his example. Working in a drug store, my task was to select Father’s Day and birthday gifts for our dad. An easy task indeed, a tin of his favorite tobacco’ Revelation or Bond Street, and now and then I order facsimile of these tobaccos. Nice memories indeed,

    • Rob on November 14, 2021
    • Ahhh Mr Stanion, you’re never a disappointment! 🤣🤣🤣. The previous comments are not bad either 👏👏 so for me, it was age 14 first time reading the hobbit etc. Had to join in the pipe smoking to embrace the whole culture, and never look back. 👍☑️

    • Carl Huffman on November 14, 2021
    • I bought my first real pipe in about 1966, when I was in college, and still have it today. I started smoking cigarettes due to their convenience and gave them up about 10 years ago. Being a compulsive personality with the habit of having to do something with my hands and a liking for tobacco. I took pipe smoking up again about two or three years ago. A case of pipe acquisition disorder has set in, and now I smoke about 5 or six bowls a day in my collection of about 17 pipes. Most are Savinellis with some Petersons, a Caminetto, and that old GBD thrown in. I really enjoy them all and the ploeasure of smoking has returned in a big way without the hassles of too much nicotine and criticism from those who consider it their duty to belittle those of us who smoke pipes.

    • Rondy Reeves on November 14, 2021
    • I bought my first pipe on my 18th birthday in 1996. From there it was a few years of the Maryland State Police, the Harford County Sheriff’s Department, and the Bel Air Police Department (who had very little to do but watch teenagers back then) thinking that it just HAD to be the Wacky Baccy in my pipe. I smoked that stuff less than a dozen times in my young life; it just wasn’t for me. Tobacco has always been my drug of choice. Now that I’m 43 and bald no one thinks that I have Wacky Baccy in my pipes. The benefits of age, right? Haha.

    • NoGaBiker on November 14, 2021
    • My best friend and I both read Don Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz, in 2005, separately. When we discovered we’d both read it we started talking about how cool it sounded that Don and his friends were smoking pipes in college. Both our fathers had smoked pipes and both were now gone, and we decided to give it a try. We go backpacking out west every year and on our next trip we found a tobacconist in AZ and bought two cheap-ass pipes, two 1-oz bags of some house blend, and the guy threw in two books of paper matches! For a backpacking trip.Needless to say, we hardly got a bowl lit all week, what with the steady breeze every night and the tiny paper matches. This was 2006; we kept at it though, over the ensuing years and finally, on a cycling trip down the Atlantic coast of Florida something clicked and we figured out how to sustain a bowl without 25 relights. That was 2011, and we’ve both been at it ever since. As with a lot of my hobbies, I find myself gravitating to the gear as much as to the activity. I’m at 23 pipes now (and I’ve thrown away a number of early cheap junk.) 5 Petersons, 3 Dunhills, 7 Italian pipes (mostly small artisans), 3 Stanwells, 2 Ropps and a mix of singles from various other makes.

    • John Charles Gifford on November 14, 2021
    • I bought my first pipe - a GBD - in Kuala Lumpur in 1966 while on R&R from Vietnam. My executive officer smoked a pipe, and I was intrigued by it. He shared his Revelation with me for the rest of the tour. When I was back in the world and in civvies, I spent a career teaching. Now, I'm retired and writing mysteries and thrillers ... still smoking my pipes. Academics, writing, and pipe smoking. I suppose I fit the stereotype. But stereotypes are stereotypes because there's a grain of truth in them. Could be a straight grain or bird's eye, but grain nonetheless. Happy puffing and the best to all! (Chuck - always enjoy your articles!)

    • Dan on November 14, 2021
    • @John Charles Gifford: Thank you for your service. I really took an interest in pipe smoking while serving in the U.S. ARMY, over 20 years ago now. And I have many hobbies and interests. I've taught myself to read music and play the bagpipes, I've dabbled with other musical instruments, I like to draw, and read. I used to lift weights and run, but my current job takes a physical toll on me (it's my substitute for the gym) and the long work hours prevent me from doing most of my hobbies. I work in a rock quarry and have learned to run every piece of equipment out there that I can get my hands on: front end loaders, dump truck, excavators, two different models of drill (we drill and blast), forklift, man basket, bobcat, and my giant ass wash plant that crushes, washes, and screens out three different aggregates (I mechanic and play electrician on that as well). I have a rudimentary three stage pond that I have to maintain, because the water that washes the rock gets pumped back up to the slurry pond and circulates back to my plant through another water pump. So, when Chuck mentioned the silt removing device that his neighbor invented...I thought "Wow, that's what I need." The silt builds up fast and the ponds need constant attention. I can spend all week up there in the long reach excavator dipping out the silt, which I like because I can listen to the radio and smoke my pipe. I can part your hair with that long reach. At night I'll step out and smoke a bowl and look at the stars and identify the constellations; you can find the center of the Milky Way between the tail of Scorpius and Sagittarius. I fluctuate between being an introvert and extrovert. I don't know what stereotype that I would fall into, but in some Zen Buddhist literature it poses the question "What is a word? A word that is used to describe something is not the thing itself. Words are empty." I really don't consider myself to be too smart, I know alittle bit about alot of things but haven't mastered one single thing.

    • Dan on November 15, 2021
    • *reread the article, correction: maybe not Chuck's neighbor, but a farmer who lived a couple miles away. And he invented a system (not a device) for removing the silt from his pond. The basic three stage pond that I have is designed to allow the silt to settle as the water travels back around to the fresh water side of the pond. It use to be two stages until my previous supervisor finally listened to me and we built a peninsula type of road through the middle of the fresh pond side which aids in the settling of the silt and allows me to get the excavator further out into the pond for cleaning.

    • Clint on November 15, 2021
    • I also started smoking a pipe in my early 20s, and with my long hair and bare feet, most people came up with what they thought was in the bowl. I'm now a glasses-pushing bearded electrical engineer (which is just a few textbooks away from being a real physicist) and armchair philosopher in my 30s. I guess I'm not helping the stereotype very much, but thanks for dispelling it either way Chuck!

    • James H on November 15, 2021
    • @Dan. I can relate to your style of thinking and writing. Especially your last sentence in your first comment. Good stuff everyone.

    • Dan on November 15, 2021
    • @ James H: Thank you. There's another reason why I don't feel like a smart pipe smoker. When my daughter, who's a junior in Early College High School, shows me her Precalculus and Accounting homework...I realize that I can't help her anymore and she doesn't need the help; all her friends go to her for help. It's very humbling and lets me know that I've lost my way on the Math Highway. Algebra and Geometry is where I ended. I know that I'm no Einstein, but I will enjoy my pipes and tobacco nonetheless. And besides, psychology is redefining what intelligence really is and its not just your IQ that determines it. Death to Stereotypes.

    • DAVID SOMMER on November 16, 2021
    • I had been intrigued with a pipe since I was a little shaver. My favorite uncle had a collection and I would sneak in and taste his pipes, I could tell which were his favs by the strength of taste in the pipe. So when I went away to college in the fall of '74 I met a young lady who liked me and she got me hooked on the hobby and I did retire my pipes for about 10 yrs because of someone saying "it burns my eyes" but after she was out of my life I picked up one of my favs and started back with my restful hobby again. Thanks again Chuck for a timely article.

    • Shug PhD on March 10, 2022
    • Great article, Mr. Chuck! It was my 18th birthday when I bought my first pipe. A cheap cob and some drug store Royal Cherry Cavendish. Back then I worried about what strangers thought when they saw me puffing away. 11 years later I know better, and if I get comments at all they seem to be compliments. Ladies love a pipe smoker, in my experience.

    • Steve S on May 13, 2022
    • Another wonderful subject and article, Chuck. My dad had a dozen or so Kaywoodie pipes when I was a young kid back in the early 50's and I always watched him with curious admiration when he filled them with Sir Walter Raleigh out of the tin can and lit them with wooden kitchen matches(he eventually graduated to a Zippo). I remember thinking how wise my dad appeared compared to the other kid's dads who hurriedly puffed away on their smelly cigarettes. I suppose it was quite natural for me to purchase my first pipe when I was 18 and, yes, it was a Kaywoodie dublin shape. Although my motive was probably to appear wise and confident as my dad, I found that I really enjoyed the taste of pipe tobacco and the beauty of pipes of different shapes. I am now an old man of 74 years and a dedicated pipe smoker for five and a half decades, and although no one has ever accused me of being wise and confident I'm OK with that. Over the years I have managed to accumulate a large collection of pipes of all shapes, sizes and costs but my most favorite are my dad's 1940's and 1950's Kaywoodies . No, I don't smoke them, but about once or twice a year I take them out of their storage box and admire their sight and smell and once again I am that kid in 1953 admiring my Dad.GOW

    • Ralph Mcculley on January 14, 2023
    • About a year after I started smoking a pipe I was at work finishing up for the day. I worked at a school bus and disabled vehicle sales company for many years before the world "V" issue. Anyway, I was walking up the side of the mechanics bays on the outside of the building because my office was on the back end and I wanted to smoke my pipe on the way to the front offices to hand in some paperwork to sales. The techs were having a meeting by the lunch tables with their boss , the garage door was open so everyone could see me. Now, I never smoked my pipe at work but this particular day was a nice fall crisp afternoon and it was a Friday, so I figured what the heck. I was walking along flipping through the pages with my Dr. Grabow Riviera billiard in the corner of my mouth smoking Sir Walter Raleigh regular and I hear talking from the on going meeting then SILENCE! I look up and I have 15 people all at once looking at me. Like in movies where things are going on and then you hear the needle rip of the record, that's what happened here! I said "what!" And the shop supervisor said "I'm just trying to figure out why you have a pipe in your mouth." This is taking place in front of the employees so I was already embarrassed. I said "what, you never saw a man smoke a pipe before?" And he said "yeah, but not anyone under 70." Then the whole place erupted in laughter. Then he said "I thought you quit smoking 5 years ago." I said that I did quit cigarettes but I still smoke a pipe from time to time and he started to say rude things like "oh, that's nice, you're trading lung cancer for mouth cancer, thats intelligent." I just continued to walk away to my destination to hand in paperwork so I could get in my car and smoke my pipe in peace.

    • Tom Hawkins on March 14, 2023
    • Smoking in general and pipe smoking in particular has lost so much of its social dimension, it is difficult to think in terms of its image. Only online in forums does it have much social context at all. I would say I don't encounter by chance another person smoking a pipe more than once every two or three years, if that. One time my long-time tax preparer asked me if I smoked, and when I said I was a moderate pipe smoker, she gave a big smile and said, "Of course!" Which pleased me no end. I'm not sure what the public image of pipe smoking is or was, but for her, I filled the bill.

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