The Hazards of Pipe Tobacco

Why Smoking a Pipe is Bad for You

Old man smoking with pipe
eclipse_images / Getty Images

Smoking tobacco out of a pipe has been around for many centuries, and has been a common practice worldwide. 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 percent) 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.

What Is Pipe Tobacco and Is It Addictive?

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 of some sort. 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 one to three 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.

Pipe Tobacco Is Federally Regulated in the United States

In 2016, the United States 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.

The FDA also has authority over components used with tobacco products. In this case, that would mean the pipes used to smoke the tobacco. Beginning in 2018, newly regulated tobacco products will be required to include the following 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.

Is Pipe Smoking Bad for My Health?

Yes. 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 or 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.

Are Cigarettes Worse Than Pipe Smoking?

Researchers who have looked at health risk differences between 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. These diseases are:

  • Ischaemic heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Other smoking-related cancers

The only appreciable difference between the two forms of tobacco use are 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.

What Are the Differences Between Hookah and Pipe Smoking?

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:

  • Frequency: 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.
  • Amount: A hookah pipe bowl can contain 10-15 grams of tobacco, while most regular pipe bowls hold 1-3 grams of tobacco.
  • Nicotine: One hookah session usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour, with smokers inhaling as much as 10 mg of nicotine from the approximately 300 to 750 mg 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, we can say that a 3 gram bowl of tobacco containing as much as 150 mg of nicotine will deliver a small amount of nicotine into the bloodstream of the smoker.
  • Toxins: 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.

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.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products. Updated April 5, 2017.

British Medical Journal. Health Consequences of Pipe vs Cigarette Smoking. 2011.

National Institutes of Health. The Association of Pipe and Cigar Use with Cotinine Levels, Lung Function and Air Obstruction: a Cross-Sectional Study. February 16, 2010.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Pipe Tobacco. Updated May 17, 2017.

Continue Reading