From what I’ve been told, you can’t buy an unfiltered pipe in Germany. That would be important if you live in Germany, but if you don’t, you may be wondering why that’s a requirement. I wonder as well, because different types of filters do different things, and I don’t know if the people who made filters a requirement are even aware of that fact. This is a subject that causes some controversy, so being the idiot I am, I’m going to wade in these waters up to my waist.
Why even bother with a filtered pipe? That will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re doing it for health reasons, I believe that you’re operating under a misconception. A filter will only have a significant impact if you inhale, and then only if you’re using the right kind.
Types of Pipe Filters
Let’s look at the different types of pipe filters in use today. They come in three basic forms- pass-through filters with a filter element inside, absorptive filters and condensers.
The pass-through filter includes the 6 mm American type (Dr. Grabow and Medico), the 9 mm European style which usually uses activated charcoal, the ring-type filter for Falcon pipes and the ones that use silica crystals, among others. This type of filter is fairly effective at removing particulate matter (the visible part of the smoke), and thus will reduce tars and nicotine. If you inhale, this may make the practice marginally safer, but all it will really accomplish for the person who doesn’t inhale is to reduce the flavor and some excess moisture.
There has never been a definitive study about the health impact of using a filtered pipe, but the incidence of issues for non-inhaling smokers are pretty low to begin with, so I can’t imagine that a filter would make much of a difference. In fact, it might even lead to smoking more frequently as the removal of the smoke particles make leave the smoker less satisfied with the flavor which may lead to reloading sooner. Those filters are the only ones that remove a significant amount of particles from the smoke stream, so they are what you would want to use if you inhale, but the other types will be of little use for removal of anything but moisture.
Absorptive Pipe Filters
The absorptive types include the Savinelli Pipes 6 and 9 mm balsa filters and the Brigham Pipes maple filters. In both cases the units are effective for soaking up water from the smokestream, but little of the actual smoke is removed, and the result is a drier experience which may also help to keep the smoke cool by taking steam out of the flow. The pass-through filters also remove moisture, but they have the drawback of reducing the flavor. For an example of a pipe with an absorptive filter, check out these Savinelli filter pipes.
Condenser Pipe Filters
The last kind of filter really isn’t a filter at all. The condenser fits into, or is part of, the tenon of the stem. Its express purpose is to disrupt airflow, and due to the fact that they are made of metal which tends to be cooler than the smoke, the excess moisture will tend to condense on or around the condenser so it never reaches the smoker’s mouth. These pieces, also known as “stingers”, are only modestly effective, and I tend to pull them out and throw them away if I find one in a new pipe. For an example of a pipe with a condenser filter, check out these Kaywoodie filter pipes.
Final Thoughts on “Safer” Pipe and Cigar Smoking
I’ve been in the tobacco business on and off since the mid-seventies, and I enjoy the people, the culture and the products, but I’d like to make my personal definitive statement on the health issues as it concerns making the hobby “safer”, and this is it- if you’re a cigar or pipe smoker and you don’t inhale, your health risks are as low as a smoker can face, but don’t interpret this to mean that there aren’t any potential hazards. At the same time, once again with the caveat that you don’t inhale, using filters and smoking “natural” (whatever that means) or organic tobacco will not appreciably reduce the risk involved.
In fact, you probably do more to help yourself by having something to drink while smoking to rinse the residue out of your mouth than any filter or, supposedly, unadulterated tobacco will. Now that I’ve opened this can of worms, let’s see if we can put them back in the tin.