I have spent quite a few years as a member of the pipes and tobaccos hobby. In fact, quite a few decades (despite my obvious youthful appearance), and I have seen all kinds of changes in the hobby since I first jumped in back in the early 1970’s. The biggest change, without question, has been the amazing battle we are having with those who actually want to do away with our hobby. I simply fail to capture the vision. Why is the legalization of marijuana sweeping the country while at the same time the “anti-smoking” crowd is trying to snuff out our pipes filled with simply pipe tobacco? And some of those people are the ones regularly taking tokes on hemp weed! And did you know that there has NEVER been a single certifiable study done on nicotine that says that drug is dangerous or hazardous to your health? Yes, it is addictive. But no one in the history of mankind has overdosed and died by smoking a pipe filled with pipe tobacco. No one has crashed their car and killed innocent people by smoking a pipe filled with simply pipe tobacco because it impaired their judgement. Can the same be said for marijuana? No! My oldest son is a police officer and he says that over the years that he has been in law enforcement, there have been many reports of serious accidents caused by individuals who were high on weed, but that he’s never seen or heard of a single report of an auto accident with injuries (or even without injuries), caused by someone who was impaired because he/she was smoking a pipe filled with nothing more than pipe tobacco. Have you?
Another major change that I have noticed occurred just a couple of years ago when McClelland’s shut down. All of a sudden, the collectors were (and still are), hoarding Virginia leaf because they discovered what McClelland’s had known for quite some time, quality Virginia leaf – particularly the sweetly tart and high sugar content Red Virginias – were getting scarce. I could use up a lot of cyber space going into all the reasons why, but suffice to say that Mike and Mary McNiel (owners of McClelland’s), knew what they were talking about when they said that the quality of the Virginia leaf they needed to continue the high standards that their blends required was just too hard to find to stay in business. Plus, they were just worn out fighting the “anti’s” who were making it harder and harder for them to stay in business without being tobacco taxed through the roof. Don’t get me wrong, there is still quality Red and other varietals of Virginia leaf still being grown, but because so many long-time tobacco farmers have spit the bit due to mounting losses, the quantity has diminished.
Now for some good news; there is still some very nice, quality tobacco being harvested in the USA and elsewhere according to the blenders that I have talked to, and enough buying power is still out there to keep them in business. Oriental tobacco of exceptional quality is still being imported from other parts of the world, and the USA, in particular, is still enjoying relative success in growing and harvesting outstanding Burley leaf – although in lesser numbers than the roaring 20’s through the 1970’s. As for Perique, Mark Ryan has helped that special processed tobacco enjoy a renaissance due to sheer dedication and willpower. The Perique he is producing in Louisiana is nothing short of spectacular, especially considering his daily battles with the FDA, the anti smoking Nazi’s, etc. With the likes of Mark, Gregory Pease, Russ Ouellette and several other blenders of quality and character both here and abroad, I think we will be just fine.
Why am I so optimistic that we’re not going away anytime soon? One of the main reasons is that at all the pipe shows I attend, I am seeing great resolve from the younger pipe smokers. Let me tell you something folks, the Gen-X and Millennial’s are a lot tougher than you think. They are getting “in your face” with the vocal and wimpy anti smoking crowd, telling them that they have equal rights and don’t need to be told what to do or what not to do when it comes to their pipe smoking. Just recently at the Kansas City Pipe Show I had the opportunity to visit with pipe makers in their 20’s and 30’s (and simply pipe smokers in that age group, too), and they were fiery and determined to enjoy what they are doing and ready to fight the old guard with all the vibrant energy that they have in order to continue to enjoy the wonderful hobby that they have chosen to be a part of.
One of the young folks that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with was a big, strapping young man by the name of Alexander Hasty. One of his pipes was selected for the annual North American Pipe Makers 7-Day set that was actually won by his father. Alex is a former major college basketball player, was a starter for four years, and while friendly, I could see that he was a fighter. I’d hate to go toe to toe with him, and as you can see by this photo of an Alexander Hasty pipe that I purchased from him at the show, I would rather smoke one of his pipes than do battle with him any day of the week and twice on Sundays! That young man has talent and I predict that his pipes will soon be among the elite.
Ever heard the expression,”Don’t feed the trolls”? “Trolls” refers to a problem in today’s digital world – online users, who repeatedly post intentionally inflammatory and hurtful comments on news or social media discussion boards. But ignoring such comments – not “feeding” the trolls – makes it harder for them to derail a conversation. Of course, it’s nothing new to encounter people who aren’t genuinely interested in productive conversation. And all of this certainly applies to our own P&T hobby. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I like to focus on all of the positives. And attending the most recent Kansas City Pipe Show on Sep. 21 & 22, further solidified my love for this hobby. Being able to share positive and fun P&T stories with like minded individuals, and being around literally dozens of classy ladies and gentlemen who share our hobby, was once again a blessing to me. Kudos to the Greater Kansas City Pipe Show organizers and club president Quinton Wells for their efforts to put on a fun show for everyone who attended. If you want to experience a pipe show that epitomizes hospitality, put that one on your calendar!