In making the
decision to smoke or not, we must educate ourselves about the risks and
benefits. Unfortunately, the scientific data which attempts to quantify
the risks of pipe smoking remain sparse. In 1964, the Surgeon General of
the United States issued a landmark report on tobacco usage. This report,
which described the dangers of cigarette smoking, including heart disease,
lung damage, and an increased cancer risk, raised the public's awareness
regarding the health consequences of certain behaviors.
Specifically, this report confirmed
what had been suspected for quite some time, that cigarette smoking could
be dangerous. However, the conclusion drawn from several studies about
pipe smokers was that they tended to live longer than the general
revision of this report, which appeared in 1979, concluded that pipe
smoking increased the mortality ratio slightly, when compared with
non-smokers, but the effect was minimal when compared to cigarette
smokers. Pipe smokers using four or fewer bowls of tobacco per day had a
lower mortality ratio than non-smokers - meaning the death rate was
less for occasional pipe smokers than for the general population.
Since then, other
reports have emerged, including the 1982 Surgeon General's report which
concluded that pipe smokers have a 2 - 4.3 times greater risk of lung
cancer than non-smokers. However, the studies upon which this conclusion
is based did not differentiate between inhalers and non-inhalers.
Presumably, non-inhaling pipe smokers would have had a lower lung cancer
risk than inhalers.
findings include a Swedish twin study which found that pipe smoking
twins lived longer than non-smoking twins. This same study found a
much higher mortality rate in cigarette smoking twins compared to their
Importantly, there is more to health risks than death! In pipe smokers
these risks include heart disease, chronic lung disease, and cancer of the
lip, tongue and throat. In fact, the largest risk for pipe smokers may be
in developing cancer of the lip. This type of cancer is more responsive to
treatment than, for example, lung cancer and therefore is not reflected in
studies examining mortality.
When a Feller Needs a Friend
old advertising slogan for Briggs Pipe Tobacco "When a Feller Needs a
Friend", I think emphasizes the psychological aspects of pipe
smoking. This phenomenon of pipe smoking as mental comfort can be found in
other advertising slogans as well, including the phrase, "Relax with
a Marxman", used by the popular New York pipe firm. Indeed, when we
examine the risks and potential benefits of pipe smoking, we must also
consider the psychological aspects of the hobby.
pipe smokers will tell you that one of life's greatest pleasures is to
enjoy a fine tobacco in a favorite pipe. The key word here is
psychological benefits of pipe smoking have been described by many who
have enjoyed the hobby, including Mark Twain, Albert Einstein and others.
Einstein felt that pipe smoking facilitated his mental clarity when
working on a difficult project. Many pictures of him at work show that he
favored billard-shaped pipes. Pipe smokers often like to recite one of his
most relevant quotes: "I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a
somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs". Indeed,
it is difficult to measure the calming qualities of pipe smoking and the
possible beneficial effects on our work, productivity, relationships, and
study we may find that enjoying a pipe in moderation can prolong life, in
a way analogous to the recent finding that consuming alcohol in moderation
may protect against the development of certain types of heart disease.
reality, most experienced pipe smokers don't look to science to
tell them that pipe smoking reduces stress. This is something they know
from their own experience. Nonetheless, scientists are interested in this
phenomenon and many believe that stress reduction can prolong life. Some
researchers feel that smoking reduces stress by stimulating "reward
centers" in the brain and affecting brain chemicals, such as
dopamine. Changes in these brain chemicals lead to a sense of calm and
relief from worry.
Risk vs Benefit
Are the risks of pipe
smoking outweighed by the benefits? Presently there is not enough
scientific information to clearly define the health risks of pipe smoking.
The risks of lung cancer and premature death appear to be much less than
for heavy cigarette smokers.
How do the risks of
pipe smoking compare to other behaviors in our repertoire such as driving
a car? Only you can decide for yourself.
If you choose to
smoke, you must be considerate of others, regardless of whether you agree
with their stance on tobacco use. Exposing someone to unwanted tobacco
smoke goes a long way toward damaging the image of pipe smokers and makes
others feel victimized.
If you feel the risks
are reasonable, and choose to smoke, available studies indicate that you
should do so in moderation and without inhaling. The concern over
"side stream" or "second hand" smoke suggests that you
should enjoy your pipe only in a well-ventilated area and/or use an air
Its hard to argue
with someone wanting to enjoy an occasional pipe, and most likely, the
pipe smoker won't want to argue anyway.
Article taken from
About The Author:
Dr. Beale is a psychiatrist, researcher,
and teacher in Charleston, SC.