Nicotine and Balsa Filters

Wodehouse

Commenter P. Stephenson wonders if Savinelli’s balsa filters reduce the nicotine hit from tobacco by absorbing moisture. This is a good question, so I set out to see if that’s true. Some while back I used carbon filters in the hope that they would diminish the nicotine hit that some tobaccos give me. I can’t say they did. I don’t recall if I tried balsa filters in that regard, and I hoped to learn something about this in my latest experimentation.

After a week of testing, I can say one thing for certain: I’m just not sure. I smoked three blends that, under some circumstances, can give me quite a wallop: C&D Big ‘N’ Burley, C&D Mad Fiddler Flake, and GL Pease Embarcadero. I mean these guys can make my head spin and my legs wobble.

So what happened when I smoked them in my Savinellis with balsa filters? One thing I can say is that the nicotine hit did not disappear altogether. The question is whether it was reduced at all. And here I am not sure. It may have done, but I must bear in mind that, for me at least, the nicotine hit from a blend seems heavily dependent on factors other than the tobacco itself. Time of day, state of rest, and fullness stomach seem to have a lot to do with it. Thus even if I’m right and did indeed experience a lesser hit, I have no way of knowing if the filter was the reason.

I’ll keep experimenting, but I fear that no matter how long I do, I won’t be able to overcome the epistemological problem. After all, if on a given occasion I find the hit less severe, I will never know what it would have been had I smoked without a filter.

Here is another thing I can say with certainty, the filter makes the draw less easy than I prefer.

In Praise of the Pot

GBD 9442
GBD Granitan 9442

The pipes I inherited from my dad included a few pots: a GBD, Comoy, BBB, and Kaywoodie. I did not take to them because they looked stodgy, something an old guy would smoke. (Never mind that I probably qualify as an old guy.) They have short stems and the defining wide-diameter short bowls. They were not nearly as cool-looking as bent bulldogs and freehands. So I didn’t smoke them.

But esthetic tastes change, and I now have a new appreciation for the shape. The change began with a couple of practical considerations. Even though I’ve been smoking pipes for about half a century, I only recently learned that the wide diameter of a pot is well-suited to complex tobacco blends. Because the tobacco surface is larger in a wide bowl than in a narrow one, more tobacco burns at any one time. So more of the components are burning simultaneously. I also heard that the wider bowl makes for a milder smoke, making a pot suitable for blends that are on the pungent side. (For me, these are mainly burley blends, with and without perique, from Cornell & Diehl, but not English — Virginia/latakia/Oriental — blends.) It seemed to follow that a high-nicotine blend (which is how I find those burleys) would have a somewhat lower nic-hit in a pot (or other wide bowls like an author or stubby Rhodesian).

A few blends I know of taste great, but they are a bit stout and nic-heavy. I would like to smoke them regularly but without the downside. Thus the pot seemed the way to go. My first tries were less than successful: I still had the undesirable effects of the nicotine. When I made some inquiries, I was told (thanks, Brian Levine of The Pipes Magazine Radio Show) that the solution is to load the bowl only two-thirds of the way. Less tobacco equals less nicotine. Why didn’t I think of that! I gave that a try and have had some success. Smoking those blends in a wider “shorter” bowl has definitely made those blends (e.g., Haunted Bookshop) more palatable. I find that smoking half-bowls is even better. Half-bowls also enable me to smoke a larger variety of tobaccos throughout the day.

As a result of all this, I now think pot-shaped pipes are just the ticket. My dad’s pots are at the top of my rotation, and I have my eye on another one. Short squat pots are now my new passion in pipes.

You can learn something new every day.

Pipe Bowl Sizes and Their Effects on Tobacco

Millicent Fenwick, former U.S. rep.

UPDATED April 2, 2018

On the Dec. 19  edition of The Pipes Magazine Radio Show, host Brian Levine and guest co-host Shane Ireland of Smokingpipes.com agreed that wide-bowl pipes, such as pots, mellow out a tobacco blend. Their advice, then, was to use such pipes for stout blends and use narrower pipes for milder blends. The logic is that if you smoke a mild blend in a wide pipe, you may find it too mild, and if you smoke a stout blend in a narrow pipe, it might knock your socks off.

That made sense. I had not paid much attention to the effect of pipe diameter on the smoke. So I tried an experiment. I smoked Haunted Bookshop, which I find stout and nicotine-heavy, in a pot (an old Kaywoodie). I’ve been smoking HB in small bowls and have had some success in taming it, enjoying the richness while minimizing the nic kick. I hoped that smoking it in a pot would mellow it still more.

Boy, I was wrong! I enjoyed the rich flavor, but I got kicked in the you-know-what by the nicotine. Luckily, it was the last smoke of the night and I was ready for bed.

I plan to keep experimenting, but I’d like to hear other smokers’ experiences. Leave comments below.

UPDATE 1: Brian wrote me privately to suggest that with a high-nic blend, I should fill the pot to only about the two-thirds mark. The idea here is to get the smoother smoke from the larger surface but without so much nicotine. I tried this with Pegasus, a pretty stout and nic-heavy (for me) C&D burley blend. The results were good. Next, I’ll try Haunted Bookshop that way. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE 2: Things are looking good. I smoked Haunted Bookshop, two-thirds of a bowl, in my father’s old GBD Granitan 9442 pot — a particularly squat form of the shape — with undiminished pleasure. I had no nic-hit from HB. This is great news indeed!

UPDATE 3: Things are not entirely smooth. I’m still getting nic-hits from the stout burley blends and even some vapers (Dunhill Navy Rolls, for instance). Brian suggested drinking lots of water during the smoke, which has definitely helped with Haunted Bookshop and Pegasus. Stay tuned.