An instrument for the enjoyment of smoke, the smoking pipe typically consists of a small chamber (the bowl) for the combustion of tobacco or similar substances and a thin stem (shank) that ends in a mouthpiece.
Tobaccos used for smoking pipes are often carefully treated and blended to achieve flavour nuances not available in other tobacco products. Many of these are blends using staple ingredients of variously cured Burley and Virginia tobaccos which are enhanced by spice tobaccos, among them many Oriental or Balkan varietals, Latakia (a fire-cured spice tobacco of Cyprian or Syrian origin), Perique (uniquely grown in St. James Parish, Louisiana) or blends of Virginia and Burley tobaccos of African, Indian, or South American origins. Traditionally, many U.S. blends are made of American Burley flavoured with aromatic ingredients to produce "sweeter" smokes whereas "English"-style blends are based on natural Virginia tobaccos enhanced only by Oriental varietals. There is a growing tendency towards "natural" tobaccos which derive their aromas from artful blending with selected spice tobaccos only and careful, often historic, curing processes. Pipes can range from the very simple machine-made briar pipe to highly-prized handmade and artful implements by renowned pipemakers which are priced as very expensive collector's items.
The majority of pipes sold today, whether hand made or machine made, are fashioned from briar. Briar is cut from the root burl of the heath tree (erica arborea), which is native to the rocky and sandy soils of the Mediterranean region. While briar is the most widely used-- and perhaps best known-- pipe making material, pipes of other woods and other materials are also available. Clay and meerschaum are probably the best known alternatives to briar.
Meerschaum (hydrated magnesium silicate), a mineral found in small shallow deposits mainly around the city of Eskesehir in central Turkey, is prized for its plasticity which allows it to be carved into many decorative and figural shapes. It has been used since the 17th century and, with clay pipes, represented the most common medium for pipes before the introduction of briar as the material of choice in the 19th century. The word "meerschaum" means "sea foam" in German, alluding to its natural white color. However, meerschaum is a very porous mineral that absorbs elements of the tobacco during the smoking process, and gradually changes color to a golden brown. Old, well-smoked meerschaum pipes are prized for their distinctive coloring.
While tobacco smoke from pipes contains less of the carcinogenic substances found in cigarette smoke, it is nonetheless a comparable health hazard, leading more often to cancers of the mouth and throat rather than the lungs. Addiction to nicotine is rarely involved unless the smoke is inhaled at a consumption rate comparable to heavy cigarette smoking. A 1964 study once showed that pipe smokers on average lived longer than the general population, but that study failed to control for social factors and did not include an adequate representation of pipe smokers to be considered sound. However, it should be noted that there are no studies that show how dangerous pipe smoking may be, and the smoker should monitor his health regarding smoking as he would any other lifestyle that can be abused, such as consumption of alcohol, cholesterol, or fat, among others.
ideas for content expansion
famous pipes and/or smokers in fact and fiction (Sherlock Holmes) -- slang (pipe dream) -- ritual uses (peace pipe) -- varieties (briar (bruyère), clay, corn cob, Meerschaum, hookah, bong) -- similar devices (cigarette holder) -- some
social context (historical use, acceptibility, expand on the "similar substances") -- ...