Magazine article Insight on the News

Pipe Dreams Are Hot Cause

Magazine article Insight on the News

Pipe Dreams Are Hot Cause

Article excerpt

For some, it is the pleasure of smoking with friends that makes puffing tobacco so compelling.

There is a group of silent players in the tobacco wars, characteristically self-effacing amid the aggressive lobbying of the tobacco giants and the stridency of the antismoking activists. This group comprises those who smoke -- not for the nicotine fix but because they find that smoke can enhance an afternoon or evening's conversation with friends. Such people can be found around family hearths, in Irish pubs, in English university common rooms and in haunts of comraderie around the world.

If this group has role models, one of them would be G.K. Chesterton, the English social critic who staunchly defended the pleasures of the common man, exalting "beer and liberty" over "soap and socilism." "Drinking and smoking were both symbols of freedom for Chesterton," notes the Rev. Ian Boyd, editor of the Chesterton Review in Sakatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. "He never denied the perils of those things, but he believed that freedom entails perils."

"Chesterton defined Americans as people who would smoke and drink and yet refer to these as their `vices,'" observes Robert Royal, an Ethics and Public Policy Center scholar who has edited some of the volumes in Ignatius Press' edition of Chesterton's complete works. "He also believed that socialism and modernity are hostile to the notion that ordinary people are competent to take risks."

Another model would be C.S. Lewis, the Oxford professor and Christian apologist whose best-known portrait shows him glancing at the viewer with an expression of generous welcome while applying a brightly glowing match to his pipe. Still another would be Lewis' friend J.R.R. Tolkien, fellow Oxford don, fantasy writer -- and pipe aficionado. In earlier, pre-health-consciousness days, paperback editions of Tolkien's Lord of the Ring bore photos of the author beaming amiably over a pipe while standing in an Oxford courtyard.

In the opening chapter of Tolkien's The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins greets Gandalf by noting that it's "a very fine morning for a pipe of tobacco out of doors," adding: "If you have a pipe about you, sit down and have a fill of mine! There's no hurry, we have all the day before us!" This spirit of shared leisure is typical of the pipe culture.

Pipes were an integral part of English university culture, at least until about a generation ago. A piece of Oxford/Cambridge folk-wisdom has it: "Students systematically smoked at for three years turn into ripe scholars." The tradition has roots on our side of the Atlantic as well. …

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