Smokers, Light Your Pipes!

Pipe-smoking competitions

Pipe-smoking competitions, sometimes referred to as long-smoking competitions, have been an integral part of the pipe-smoking community for over 100 years, offering hobbyists and enthusiasts an opportunity to test their skill, versatility, and lung capacity. These events are typically held at pipe-smoking conventions, or sponsored by a pipe club, like the International Association of Pipe Smokers' Club (IAPCS), United Pipe Clubs of America (UPCA), or the Committee International of Pipe Smokers Clubs (CIPC).

The basic rules are simple, but the task is difficult. Each competitor is permitted only two matches to light their bowl, and must keep three grams of tobacco burning for as long as possible. To ensure an even playing field, the convention or club hosting the event will usually supply participants with the same pipes, tampers, and tobacco blend. Once the bowls are packed, the judges call for the participants to light their pipes, and the contest begins.

Techniques differ based on the individual smoker's preference and a particular event's rules. Ember chasing, for instance, is difficult to master, but quite an advantageous long-smoking technique. Ember chasing is accomplished by lighting a small section of tobacco and using a tamper to push the burning tobacco around the bowl, giving the smoker greater control over the rate of burn. Some long-smoking competitions, however, have particularly nuanced requirements pertaining to tamper use, making a technique like that even more difficult. Officially accepted rules require that the tamper may be employed only with pipe in mouth.

Pipe-smoking competitions

The competition lasts until only one participant is left smoking, which means, depending on the prowess and skill of the smokers, these contests can carry on for quite some time. Italian artisan Claudio Cavicchi, for instance, won the CIPC World Championship by keeping his pipe lit for 3 hours, 9 minutes, and 3 seconds.

Even for the most experienced pipe smoker, long-smoking competitions offer a serious challenge, as it's a contest of concentration as much as skill. Quoting from a 1985 Los Angeles Times article:

"The trick was to keep the tobacco burning in the bowl without relighting it. That is not an easy task with a new pipe and harsh tobacco in a ballroom full of people trying to outlast you," said Cindy Ensminger, last year's winner in the women's division. [...] The taste of the tobacco, called cube straight Burley, also affected her performance, Ensminger said. "It didn't taste good," she said. A 1990 Chicago Tribune article described that "It was the ferocity of competition, not the smells, that created sweaty palms, tense brows and measured breathing during the contest in the back room of O`Brien`s Sirloin Inn. ...

Long-smoking competitions have long been associated with the rise and proliferation of pipe clubs. The UPCA, for instance, was originally formed out of a desire "to bring the United State into the International Committee of Pipe Clubs (CIPC) and to organize slow smoking competitions in this country." The IAPCS has also held an annual long-smoking competition, almost since their inception. The founder of the club, Paul Spainola, won the championship six times over the course of his life (and came in second at the age of 95). Spaniola's success as a World Championship Pipe Smoker eventually led him to Twentieth Century Fox Studios, where he was brought in to teach Susan Hayward how to smoke a pipe for her role in The President's Lady.

Nowadays, long-smoking competitions have tapered in popularity in the U.S. Quoting from the News and Tribune:

IAPSC Chairman Dan Spaniola, whose father Paul founded the club, said much of the changing landscape in the pipe smoking world can be attributed to anti-smoking thinking, and in Michigan's case, changing laws. There's just few places for competitions to be held, he said. In its heyday, the world contest had up to 150 participants and close to 100 spectators. In the U.S., there were close to 40 active clubs. Now, Spaniola said, there are only a handful of clubs left, and the world contest draws closer to 30 smokers.

That being said, while pipe-smoking competitions may not be as frequent as they once were, events are still held regularly and draw plenty of enthusiastic participants, experienced and inexperienced. The UPCA's annual Slow Smoke Contest is held every year at the Chicago Pipe Show, with last year's event seeing impressive participation. In addition, the 2022 Chicago Pipe Show saw the introduction of the UPCA's Fast Smoke Competition, a playful inversion of the time-honored slow-smoke events, where the contestants are judged on how fast they can smoke a bowl of tobacco in a corn cob without burning out the pipe.

Even beyond competition, these pipe-smoking contests offer a way to bring together like-minded individuals around a shared passion and hobby, providing an environment for the community to flourish. Quoting Dan Spaniola from the News and Tribune article, "'Pipe smokers are a very calm, relaxed people ... It's just a good bunch of people to be around.'" So next time your pipe club or local show is having a contest, consider competing. It's both serious and amusing, and it's a terrific opportunity to meet new people, make new connections, and experience a good-natured competition that's a classic element of the global pipe-smoking community.

Pipe-smoking competitions


  • "They Huffed and They Puffed but They Were Smoked by the Record," (1985) by Amalia Durante, Los Angeles Times
  • "Jeffersonville pipe smoker puffs like a champion (because he is one)," (2018) by Elizabeth Depompei, News and Tribune
  • "HARD-SMOKING PIPE DEVOTEES PUFF IT OUT," (1990) by Jessica Seigel, Chicago Tribune
  • United Pipe Clubs of America: FAQ
  • IAPSC: Club History
Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Pipe Club Pipe Culture


    • JUANCARLOS on March 19, 2023

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