Just as the actions of a few bad apples in a large group can taint the public conception of all its members, due to the revelations about some of the substances used in the manufacture of cigarettes, people seem to believe that the additives used in pipe tobaccos are similarly harmful. The truth is, beside the fact that, in general, pipe smokers don’t inhale the smoke, the additives used are very different. I’ll use this blog post to explain about what’s in many pipe tobaccos other than tobacco.
Flavorings- There are two types of flavorings used in tobaccos. The first type is called a casing. Pretty much any blend that contains Virginia or Burley tobaccos have been cased. These flavorings aren’t used as much to add taste or aroma as to mitigate any negative properties of the raw leaf. Burley, for example, has a bit of a sour note, so sweeteners may be added, such as molasses or licorice, mixed with water and steamed into the tobacco. The sweetener won’t be noticed very much, but it keeps the tobacco from becoming unpalatable. Once the casing is applied, the tobacco then needs to be dried out a bit.
The other kind of flavoring is called a top dressing and is used for aroma and flavor purposes. These are flavors much like those used in making food, but when producing top dressings, the fluid that carries the flavor is usually alcohol. This is so the flavor can be applied without having to run the tobacco through the drying chamber again. The alcohol simply evaporates off.
Humectants- Humectants are agents that help keep moisture levels consistent in tobacco, but they’re also used in food products that can dry out and go stale. There are a number of substances that can do the job. Some sugar alcohols, primarily sorbitol and xylitol, do the job, but caution has to be used as these are quite sweet and can throw off the flavor. Others that don’t impact flavors include glycerin and the one that is most commonly used: propylene glycol. They work by absorbing moisture from the ambient atmosphere. These are all food-grade additives and are considered safe. Without them, it would be virtually impossible for the tobacco to remain moist in anything other than a vacuum sealed container for more than a week or two.
Antifungals- These additives exist to keep moist tobacco from becoming moldy. There are a number of safe products that are use to stem the growth, and this is important as there are mold spores virtually everywhere.
There are no additives being used to keep the tobacco burning or to raise the nicotine levels. In this regard, pipe tobacco and cigarette tobacco are very dissimilar.
Please understand that I’m not saying that there are no risks involved in smoking any form of tobacco. What I am saying is that pipe tobacco is nowhere near as treated and manipulated as cigarettes, and as such shouldn’t be lumped together, but the anti-tobacco zealots want to do so because it would be easier to completely eliminate the industry than it would be to differentiate between cigarettes, premium cigars, machine-made cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, moist snuff, snus, nasal snuff, etc.
Regardless, there are fewer additives in pipe tobacco, and they’re generally safer than those used in the mass-manufactured products.
If you want to make sure that the tobacco you smoke is at its optimum, some things outside of tobacco need to be present, but they may well be safer than some of the chemicals added to the processed foods we eat. Go figure.
Blog by Paresh Deshpande Yes!! That is what exactly my thought was, when I looked closely at the small pipe in my hand that I had selected as my next project for restoration. Those who have read my previous write ups on pipe restoration would know that I have inherited a large number of pipes […]
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Blog by Paresh Deshpande I had just finished restoring a Kaywoodie Handmade ¾ bent Apple pocket pipe that I had found in the pile of pipes inherited from my Grandfather. The next pipe that I have selected for restoration is again a Kaywoodie, but a Bent Billiard with a 4 holed stinger, also from my […]
Blog by Steve Laug Not too long ago I received an email from through the rebornpipes site. I am actually getting quite a few emails each week which I find a pleasure to read and answer. They range from questions on restoration to those regarding estate pipes. This one was interesting to me in that […]
Around this time of year, as the weather gets slightly less abusive in South Carolina, a pensive mood takes hold over my senses. Some might attribute this to the upcoming celebration of Halloween, but nonetheless, there is something of a magical allure to the liminal season. Traditionally, those October celebrations commemorate the results of spring and summer's hard work, and mark an opportunity to reap the benefits of the annual bounty. As pragmatic as I claim to be, I'm charmed by the idea of otherworldly attribution to the Earth's natural gifts. Especially tobacco, of course.
The Wabanaki tribe of Northeastern North America have an interesting story for the origin of our favorite leaf. According to legend, tobacco is a gift from God, known as Tabaldak, but for some time, the stuff was guarded on an island by a selfish magician named Grasshopper. Gluskabe, a common hero in Wabanaki tradition, sought to retrieve Grasshopper's cache, believing tobacco should be enjoyed by all. Arriving at the island, Gluskabe gathered all the bundled leaf and seeds, along with Grasshopper's pipe, still smoldering by the fire.
The hero returned home, but not before the evil magician, from the bow of his flying canoe, furiously demanded the return of his leaf and seeds. Gluskabe, however, was steadfast. Grasshopper implored, but the magician could not be trusted. Gluskabe rubbed Grasshopper between his hands, and the villain became very small. Still, he begged for seeds so that he could replenish his smoking supply. Gluskabe relented, if only slightly, deciding to give Grasshopper enough to enjoy in his lifetime, so he stuffed some into his mouth. The wizard pleaded to be returned to his floating vessel, but the hero instead split the back of Grasshopper's coat, giving him wings to fly, but in a less threatening fashion. To this day, the magician still flies around, chewing his mouthful of tobacco, but if you happen to pick him up, he will spit the stuff into your hand, seemingly out of respect for Gluskabe's lesson.
I considered this legend as I raised a flame to my pipe the other night, the flicking of my lighter intermingling with steady, muted chirping in the distance. Curls of ribbon folded in something of a sacramental salutation, and as several light wisps dissipated into the air, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I reached toward the visitor, beckoning to join me for a smoke. Immediately, however, the old magician decided to share his own stash with me, whether I wanted it or not.
I haven't had a dog of my own for a while, so I was excited to spend the weekend pet-sitting my friend's. An eight-month-old mixed breed with fluffy ears, she has more energy than the North American power grid, and uses it mainly for chewing. Within a day, both of my flip-flops had been destroyed, along with an ethernet cable, a chair leg, and some linoleum (it was ugly anyway). This dog needed to burn some energy. I put in a call to another friend, and we set off for the dog park the same afternoon.
We hovered along the edges of the park, shivering in the unseasonably cool South Carolina weather, while our dogs chased each other through the grass. My pipes were safely hidden in a box at home — a safety measure after the carnage of my shoes — but Mitch had his hanging from his jaw while he watched. There were several large gouges in the side of it, and I frowned at the sight of what had once been a lovely, smooth-polished briar.
"Did you fall in a wood chipper with that thing?" I asked.
He took it from his teeth, studying the side for a moment. "Bombie got ahold of it," he sighed.
I nodded in sympathy. "I'm surprised you're still smoking it."
He shrugged and looked up. Bombie and Sadie were wrestling under a tree. They broke apart, sitting still for a moment despite their hard panting, before shooting off for a corner of the park. "I can't blame her for doing dog things. I've got a pipe with some character, and learned a lesson."
I nodded again. I'd had to replace several of my tobacco jars over the past year, after all, with ones that wouldn't break when a spiteful cat knocked them off of the shelf. Living with a dog was not dissimilar — a different set of requirements, but the same theory. And after all, I had been only a touch angry the first time my well-aged flake had been ruined by broken glass. It's hard to stay angry in the face of an animal's wide-eyed gaze.
I watched the innocent joy of happy dogs playing. "Just got to keep an eye on the tins next," I said.
Recent hurricanes have reminded me of a particularly tenacious rainy season I experienced in my distant youth. I was employed as a hod carrier at the time, hauling bricks, stones, cement and other supplies for masons. We stopped work as the deluge started flooding everything. I didn't keep track of time, and it was difficult to tell night from day, but it rained nonstop for about a month and a half.
As the waters quickly rose and people fled, I found an abandoned boat and took refuge. It was only 15 cubits long, so there wasn't much room, but it had a small enclosure and was better than treading water.
I don't mind doing without food, mental diversion, comfort or companionship, but there are rare deprivations no human should endure — among them, unsmokable tobacco. I tried building a fire on board, but the waves and wind and blinding torrent of rain conspired against me. There was no way to dry my soaked tobacco.
After a few days of boisterous muttering and complaining, I thought I heard waves crashing. Paddling blindly for most of the night, I eventually bumped into a solid wall of gopher wood rising into the dark clouds. Maybe it was the perimeter of a mountaintop city that hadn't flooded. I searched until I found a rope dangling from above and began climbing.
Reaching the top, I discovered it was some kind of boat, about 150 cubits long and filled with supplies, including every kind of animal I could imagine. Whoever was running this thing must have some exotic tastes in meat.
More important, I found barrels of dry tobacco. There was plenty, and I admit I helped myself to a handful. Desperate times.
I tied my little boat to the ship so I wouldn't float far from it, and revisited several times for tobacco resupply — until I was discovered. I had decided to reduce the number of trips by securing an entire barrel of tobacco. I had rolled it across the deck and hoisted it up onto the railing when an occupant of the boat discovered me. He appeared to be about 600 years old, but he was a tough old guy and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. "You aren't on the passenger manifest," he said.
"Under the unusual circumstances, maybe it could be amended?"
"Oh no," he said, "it comes from the highest authority. And what is this? You're stealing my tobacco?"
I took that opportunity to give the barrel a push and it dropped from the rail into the sea. The old guy blinked, and then he pitched me overboard.
I found my boat and tobacco barrel and paddled away from the inhospitable boat. I now had enough tobacco to last, so it didn't matter. Besides, a couple of weeks later, the sun came out and the waters receded.
The occupants of the mysterious boat were also there, and I spied on them because they had tobacco and I meant to get more. Over several months, they built a compound and planted crops. All the animals had been released, so I had to dodge tigers and wildebeests and the like (kangaroos, for some reason, loathed me) but I maintained the surveillance until I struck upon a plan.
When the strangers' grapes ripened, I stole enough to apply some of my own skills to make wine, which I left for the strangers as a diversion or token of friendship, whichever worked best. But the old guy found it and drank it all himself, eventually passing out, so while he slept I grabbed a year's supply of tobacco and some tobacco seeds.
There was some kind of ruckus as I was departing. Something about the old guy's son walking in on him sleeping. I didn't want to get involved and bolted.
I planted my tobacco seeds and raised a fine crop. It took a few years, but things returned to normal, and my tobacco supply never again disappeared.
When I saw the recent hurricane-generated rainfall, I was afraid I might have to do it all again, so I had a 15-cubit boat ready, with plenty of tobacco on board, but the precaution was unnecessary.
Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. I waffle back and forth between summer and fall, my opinion usually based on whatever season I'm in. While in the middle of summer, I'll usually accept that season as my favorite. After years of this repeated pattern, I've come to a conclusion. I'm really a fan of the change in seasons, regardless of what those seasons are.
Seasonal change ushers in new experiences, new wardrobes, types of food, and for some of us pipesmokers, a change in tobacco. This is the time of year that I typically start to rotate in more Burley and English blends. This year has been no different. The other day I packed my bowl with an old favorite, a Burley forward blend that I haven't smoked since February. It was fantastic. I sat, sipped on coffee, and puffed away on a blend that I decided I smoked far too infrequently.
This isn't all that unusual, though. English blends tend to go through the same seasonal rotation for me. While it's not unheard of for me to load up a bowl of Blairgowrie in the summer, this is a tobacco that usually ends up front and center in my rotation starting in October.
I think this is what I really like about the seasons changing. It's not just the weather. It's everything. Long forgotten favorites that haven't been enjoyed for too long. My shorts and flops have been traded in for a comfy pair of jeans and a worn out hoodie. Burleys and English blends replacing my Virginias, if only temporarily. These are the times of the year when we all rediscover favorites and break through the routine of the last few months. Yes, I think this is my favorite time of the year.