The Hazards of Using Pipe Tobacco
Armeen Poor, MD, is a board-certified pulmonologist and intensivist. He specializes in pulmonary health, critical care, and sleep medicine.
Smoking tobacco out of a pipe has been a worldwide practice for centuries. Historically, pipes were used in ceremonies with the practice gradually gaining mainstream popularity over the years as an accepted way to smoke tobacco. Shops sprang up that catered to pipe (and often cigar) smokers. Flavored blends sold in bulk could be sampled right on the premises in smoke rooms set up for patrons.
Pipe smoking has been dwindling in use since the 1960s but is still favored by a small percentage (approximately 2%) of smokers in the United States today, especially older men. Pipe smoking is still common in Sweden, where as many as one-quarter of adult males smoke a pipe.
Pipe Tobacco Ingredients
Pipe tobacco is loose-leaf tobacco most commonly grown in northern middle Tennessee, western Kentucky, and Virginia. It is fire-cured, which involves slowly smoking the drying tobacco leaves over a smoldering hardwood fire inside of a barn or structure.
The process can take days to weeks, and the end result is a tobacco that is low in sugar and high in nicotine. Most pipe tobacco is aromatic, having had a flavoring added to the finished product that gives it a depth and richness in taste and smell.
Pipe tobacco is addictive. An average pipe bowl contains 1–3 grams of tobacco, with the nicotine level per gram averaging 30–50 milligrams. Smokers don’t tend to inhale pipe smoke as much as cigarette smokers, but some nicotine still reaches the bloodstream after being absorbed through the lining of the mouth.
You might think that because most pipe smokers don’t inhale, the health risks are minimal. While there isn’t a lot of scientific data on the health effects of pipe smoking, we do know that there are risks.
Pipe smoking is associated with a number of illnesses that are common in cigar and cigarette smokers. For instance, pipe smokers face an elevated risk of cancers of the mouth, including the tongue, larynx, and throat. Smokers who inhale pipe smoke also have an elevated risk of lung, pancreatic, and bladder cancer.
Pipe smokers face an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While cigarette smoking is usually the main cause of COPD, other forms of tobacco like pipe-smoking and cigars can also result in tobacco smoke inhalation and damage to delicate lung tissue.
People who smoke pipes might face an elevated risk of death from heart disease, especially those who inhale the smoke. More research needs to be done in this area.
Health Risk Comparison
You might wonder how smoking a pipe compares to other types of smoking in terms of health risks. There is data comparing pipe use to cigarette and hookah use.
Researchers who have looked at health risk differences between the pipe smoking and cigarettes have concluded that they both carry essentially the same risks for early death from a number of diseases that can be linked to tobacco including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Ischaemic heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Various other smoking-related cancers
The only appreciable difference between the two forms of tobacco use is method and frequency of use. Pipe smokers tend not to inhale (as much) as cigarette smokers, and they smoke less often during the course of a day.
Starting with the knowledge that both hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco are hazardous to health, let’s take a look at the differences between the two.
Amount and Frequency
A hookah pipe bowl can contain 10–15 grams of tobacco, while most regular pipe bowls hold 1–3 grams of tobacco. Hookah is typically smoked at a hookah lounge or in a social setting, so hookah smokers might only smoke once every few days or once a week. Pipe smokers also smoke infrequently, but many light up a pipe once (or a few times) a day.
A hookah session can lasts 45 minutes to an hour, with smokers inhaling as much as 10mg of nicotine from the 300mg to 750mg of nicotine in the tobacco. A bowl of pipe tobacco is smaller and smokers don’t inhale as much, so getting an accurate measure of nicotine absorption is difficult. However, a 3-gram bowl of tobacco with 150mg of nicotine can deliver a small amount of nicotine into the bloodstream.
All tobacco products contain a number of toxins that come from a variety of sources: pesticides in the field, additives, and chemical changes that occur when tobacco with additives are burned. Tar, arsenic, carbon monoxide, and polonium-210 are just a few of the chemicals that are harmful to human health in tobacco smoke.
To date, upwards of 250 poisonous chemicals and 70 carcinogenic compounds have been identified in tobacco and tobacco smoke.
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extended a rule that gives the FDA regulatory authority over all tobacco products, including pipe tobacco. The manufacture, packaging, and labeling of all tobacco products must meet FDA guidelines, as well as how products are advertised, promoted, sold and even imported.
As of Dec. 20, 2019, the legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.
The FDA also has authority over components used with tobacco products. In this case, that would mean the pipes used to smoke the tobacco.
All newly regulated tobacco products in the U.S. are required to include the following warning label on packaging: “WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”
If the manufacturer submits a self-certification form to the FDA, along with proof that their newly regulated product is nicotine-free, then the required label will read: “This product is made from tobacco.”
Ultimately, federal regulation over tobacco products helps to protect consumers. While all tobacco products are hazardous to health, FDA guidelines are meant to ensure that manufacturers are not able to secretly manipulate tobacco recipes in ways that could cause more harm than they already do.
A Word From Verywell
It has been well documented that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. This is true regardless of the form tobacco comes in. Smokers and non-smokers all face risks to their health when breathing in tobacco smoke. If you are a smoker who is trying to find a “healthier” alternative to cigarettes, know that the only good choice is to wean yourself off of tobacco entirely.
There are a number of ways to quit successfully. Nicotine addiction is enslaving, and quitting is difficult, but it’s possible to do the work now to quit and shed the limits addiction puts on your life. Others have done it and you can, too.
Is pipe smoking a healthier way to use tobacco than smoking cigarettes? Learn about the risks associated with pipe smoking.
Pipe Smokers Live Longer…
Than cigarette smokers. Consider smoking a pipe.
Feb 17, 2014 · 3 min read
Few people know the real details about the differences between cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Most are just bombarded by anti-smoking messages on a daily basis that lump ALL smoking into the same bucket. So allow me to provide you with a bit of information about those differences.
- The premium tobacco that is grown for cigars and for pipes is generally alkaline based. Because of this you don’t inhale pipe smoke or cigar smoke.
- Cigarettes are from a varietal of tobacco plant that is more acidic based — thus you can inhale it into your lungs where you absorb 100x the amount of nicotine than if you had just from keeping it in your mouth.
- If just 10% of cigarette smokers switched from smoking cigarettes to smoking a pipe or cigar you would double the amount of pipe and cigar smokers out there.
- Pipe and Cigar smokers taste the tobacco, like you would wine or coffee.
- While many point to the surgeon generals report from 1964 about how bad cigarettes are (and I agree, cigarettes are pretty bad, mostly for the chemicals) — many fail to look at what it says about pipe smokers.
“According to the Committee, cigar smoke has 4 times as much benz(a)pyrene as cigarette smoke, and pipe smoke ten times as much as cigarette smoke (p. 58). Yet, the Committee found pipe and cigar smoke to be pretty much innocent of causing lung cancer, and even concluded that pipe smokers live longer than non-smokers.”
6. Because the amount of nicotine is so small for pipe smokers — you don’t see them (pipe smokers) becoming addicted to it or smoking a pipe. They smoke for the same reason someone may enjoy a glass of good wine.
7. But in ta l king about nicotine, lets discuss the benefits which again area always left out:
“Modern science tells us that nicotine is an alkaloid which produces certain physiological effects in humans and animals. Nicotine is found in tobacco plants, and to a lesser degree in tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes, and eggplant. The general effects of nicotine are biphasic: initially it is mentally invigorating, and then it leads to a relaxing effect. In small doses, nicotine increases alertness, concentration, and enhances mental performance. Today we know that nicotine protects against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and can help treat Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and possibly rheumatoid arthritis and colorectal cancer. New discoveries are being made every year about the beneficial effects of nicotine, but these benefits are usually overshadowed in the public domain by Smokerism and anti-smoke hysteria. Fortunately, we know that “stress kills”, and the greatest benefit from luxury tobacco comes from its relaxing effects!”
8. e-Cigarettes and vapes is just another delivery method for large quantities of nicotine that keeps you more heavily addicted while it can help you quit cigarettes it does not stop the delivery of larger quantities of nicotine. Not only that, you’re vaping on chemicals (some may argue that its no worse than pipes or cigars). Premium tobacco is natural; or rather has less chemical additives than say cigarettes or e-Cigarettes. For more information refer to the premium tobacco process at tobacconist university.
9. Pipe smoking lends itself to slowing down one’s pace. Thus, if you’re a type-A personality that is one jelly dough-nut away from a heart-attack caused by stress, picking up a pipe might allow you to relax, slow down and reflect on what has you so wound up. In turn, helping you remove one of the main contributors to health problems — stress.
10. We live in an increasingly fast-paced society, so much so that we sometimes don’t stop and smell the flowers. There is ritual in pipe smoking that helps ground us, and slow us down to reflect on the day and the amount of change that has happened. Pipe smoking also helps us socialize with our friends and with strangers in ways that facebook and social media just can’t do.
Heishman, S. J., Kleykamp, B. A., & Singleton, E. G. (2010). Meta- analysis of the acute effects of nicotine and smoking on human performance.
Psychopharmacology, July, pp. 453-469.
Few people know the real details about the differences between cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Most are just bombarded by anti-smoking messages on a daily basis that lump ALL smoking into the same…