An image gone up in smoke Remember pipe smokers? They are still around, but they are no match for their hip, cigar-puffing colleagues.

August 23, 1998|By Mark Feeney | Mark Feeney,BOSTON GLOBE

Yes, yes, it's old hat by now, you've heard all about it. Cigars are hip (ho-hum). They're sexy (so what else is new?). There are magazines and radio shows and even a Marxist dictator dedicated to cigar smoking (tell us something we don't know). Yet buried beneath the ballyhoo is a story that has largely gone unnoticed: the incredible disappearing pipe smoker.

There was a time when pipes dominated cigars the way cigars now dominate pipes. "Up through the '80s, any real tobacconist was a pipe store. A cigar shop would just be a stand, in a railroad station or a hotel lobby," says Paul MacDonald, owner of tobacco shops in Boston and Cambridge, Mass.

Pipes had the cachet that cigars now do - and the sales. Twenty years ago, MacDonald says, 80 percent of his business was pipes and pipe tobacco; today, it's 80 percent cigars. The Pipe Tobacco Council, an industry group, estimates 52 million pounds of pipe tobacco were sold in the United States in 1970. Last year, the figure was 7.1 million pounds, a decline of 86 percent.

Some 3 million Americans still smoke pipes, but you'd never know it by looking at the media. It sometimes seems as if every other celebrity is being photographed puffing on a Macanudo. How often do you see a celebrity inserting a pipe cleaner into his Kaywoodie?

"I couldn't tell you who the current famous pipe smokers are," says Gordon Mott, managing editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine. Indeed, there is no pipe equivalent to Mott's publication, the decade's most successful magazine start-up.

There's a reason movie stars are so eager to be seen chomping on a cheroot. The perception is that cigars are what tough guys smoke, so that's what Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone want to be seen doing. Arnold and Sly, pipe smokers both, reach for their tobacco pouches away from the camera.

Why? Says Ed O'Connor, director of sales and marketing for Spec Comm International, a Raleigh, N.C., media firm that publishes Pipes and Tobaccos magazine, "They do not want to be covered in magazines as pipe smokers because they feel it's not manly."

Pipes are about reflection; cigars about aggression. It is peace pipes that get smoked, not peace cigars. No one has ever intimidated someone with the taunt, "Put that in your cigar and smoke it."

"Cigar smokers tend to be open and direct: the Indian chiefs of the world," says O'Connor. "Pipe smokers tend to be self-contained and indirect: the accountants of the world." Cigars are $1,000 suits, stock options, swagger. Pipes are jackets with elbow patches, tenure, avuncularity.

Statistics bear out this image of pipe smokers.

"More pipe smokers tend to be in the clerical, sales and technical fields, and precision crafts," says Norman F. Sharp, who as president of both the Pipe Tobacco Council and the Cigar Association of America is in a unique position to comment on the difference between the two smoking types. "They tend to be methodical and deliberate people."

This divergence between pipes and cigars is reflected beyond smoking. Cigars are a comedian's best friend - witness George Burns, Milton Berle, Bill Cosby and Groucho Marx. Pipes and comedy? Dan Aykroyd smokes a pipe, that's about it. Cigar is the name of a champion thoroughbred. Pipes are what plumbers fix. After dinner, gentlemen repair to the library for brandy and cigars. Once his guests leave, the host can relax while his dog brings his pipe and slippers.

Women taking up cigar smoking have been highly publicized. To be sure, there has been the occasional pipe-smoking female - Queen Victoria, Mammy Yokum, Angela Davis - but they're a pretty drab lot compared with such female cigar smokers as George Sand, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg.

Cigars give off a whiff of musk (Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas smoke them). Pipes don't (Gerald Ford and Antonin Scalia smoke them). Cigars are about triumph. Ever seen Red Auerbach light up a victory pipe or Winston Churchill make the V-for-Victory sign with a pipe stuck between his fingers? Where there's pipe smoke, there's not much fire.

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," Sigmund Freud is supposed to have said. Well, a pipe is always just a pipe. Even artistically, pipes are all about self-effacement (Frank Stella smokes cigars, Norman Rockwell smoked a pipe). The most famous rendering of a pipe is Rene Magritte's Surrealist painting, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," which in English means, "This is not a pipe."

The one place where pipes have it all over cigars is in the library - where else? - a superiority that extends to fiction as well as fact. The world's best-known pipe smoker is Sherlock Holmes. Huck Finn likes a pipe, and the toughest guy ever to put match to bowl is Philip Marlowe. Marlowe's being a pipe man comes as no surprise: So was his creator, Raymond Chandler. Other authors who chewed on a mouthpiece include William Faulkner, Evelyn Waugh, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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