Monday, January 31, 2011

Missing the Aroma of Pipes

When was the last time you saw someone smoking a pipe?

There was a time when pipe smoking was an acceptable practice in America. It even provided a pleasant aroma that many found familial and fascinating.

And some of our great icons were pipe smokers, including Santa Claus, Albert Einstein, Douglas MacArthur, Mark Twain, Hugh Hefner, Bing Crosby and, of course, Popeye.

Alas, the pipe has been banned along with cigarettes and cigars to that nether region where people retreat to enjoy unpopular pleasures.

But it hasn't disappeared completely.

"You don't see people out smoking pipes any more because of the smoking laws," said Lola Marley, owner of The Smoking Lamp, a King Street tobacco shop. "But many people who object to cigarette smoke do not object to pipe smoke because it smells wonderful."

Southern Magic

Indeed, some people still have olfactory memories of pipe smoke that reminds them of their fathers or grandfathers.

We all remember those commercial cherry-flavored tobaccos that floated around in the old days. But today Marley makes her own special blends that are in great demand.

"We have a strong mail-order business for our custom blends," she said. "Some of those include Charleston Choice, Watson's Blend and Southern Magic."

And her customers range in age from college students to people in their 70s, said Marley, who herself is a cigar smoker.

But there's just something special and separate about pipe smoking, even if it has been driven underground by society's effort to create a smoke-free world.

"Pipe smoking is very relaxing," Marley said. "The ritual is very relaxing. And, of course, you don't inhale pipe smoke. I'm not going to make any health claims for tobacco, but pipe tobacco is extremely pure. It doesn't have any chemicals or additives. It's all natural."

Different culture

There's also the creation of the instruments themselves, a subject that can be discussed at great length while lighting, relighting and puffing away on a pipe.

Marley said all pipes are made out of briar, a burl of the root of the heath tree that only grows in the Mediterranean.

"It has to be harvested by hand in such a way that it doesn't kill the plant," she said. "It's really an art form. The briar has to age and dry for many years. Then, of course, the better pipes are hand carved.

"Some are like sculpture. The aesthetics of it is all part of how it looks and how it feels in your hand. That's all part of it."

After 24 years in the tobacco business, Marley says pipe smoking is different in many ways.

"It's a whole culture," she said. "Pipe smokers are not like other people. They are very interesting, very thoughtful and tend to be opinionated."

If, of course, you can find one.

Reach Ken Burger at or 937-5598 or follow him on Twitter at

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