Smoke: Drawing on Stereotypes

<< Back to Robb Report, February 2002

Years ago, astute television viewers watching Barbara Walters’ interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger caught a glimpse of his pipe rack. It was no accident that the collection was visible—Schwarzenegger rarely leaves anything to chance. He is an avowed cigar smoker, but he was subtly showing a kinder, gentler side of his passion for smoke.

Schwarzenegger, who epitomizes the cigar’s image of power and success, was acknowledging the pipe’s cerebral and sophisticated connotation. Pipes and cigars each pro-ject their own image, and by and large, the people who first smoked them created the perceptions we hold today.

The cigar’s association with success began in 19th-century England, when power brokers such as financier Leopold de Rothschild (who had a cigar shape named after him) and Prince (later King) Edward made the Havana cigar a symbol of opulence. This image originated shortly after Columbus brought tobacco back to Spain. Cigar rolling—and smoking—became a favored Spanish pastime. But because of the high cost, the luxury of cigar smoking was reserved for Spanish nobility and other members of high society.

As cigar smoking gradually spread throughout the rest of Europe and eventually to America, the tobacco and skilled labor that cigar rolling requires continued to make it more expensive (read: more popular) than other forms of tobacco use, such as pipe smoking and taking snuff.

The situation remains the same today. A premium cigar still costs substantially more than a bowl of the best pipe tobacco. The image that cigar smokers are of the highest social and economic rank also continues. Just look at how many business leaders and public personalities have them around.

Pipes, on the other hand, have been associated with the intelligentsia ever since the days of Sir Francis Bacon. Early pipes were made of clay and were quite fragile; they were not something that could be smoked while engaging in rigorous activities. They demanded a sedentary smoker, or men with contemplative occupations such as writing and theology.

Holding a pipe and slowly sipping its smoke encourage introspection. Dedicated pipe smokers such as Albert Einstein, Walter Cronkite, and authors ranging from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Irving Wallace have reinforced this image. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles enjoyed both pipes and cigars, but favored the pipe during their more meditative moments when writing or revising a story.

The pipe’s image extends today through Germany’s Nobel Prize–winning author Günter Grass, and saxophone jazzman Kenny Blake, who likes to puff on a pipe between sets. And although you might assume producer Aaron Spelling would be a cigar man, given his mega-mogul stature in Hollywood, he is actually an enthusiastic pipe smoker.

Unlike cigar smoking, wherein your only obligation is to occasionally flick off ash, smoking a pipe requires periodic tamping and relighting. That ongoing ritual has contributed to the pipe smoker’s image of finicky meticulousness. In fact, an unofficial doctrine among car dealers is to never wait on a pipe smoker because he will take forever to make a decision. Perhaps that is why Alfred Lord Tennyson, hoping to avoid making a selection from racks of clays, never smoked the same pipe twice.

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