Al Pascia



March 27, 2012

Are you a Tobacco Customer or a Hoarder? Who Decides?

Much has been said of late concerning the “hoarding” of popular, hard to come by, brands of tobacco. It seems to have come to somewhat of a crescendo with the significant price increase of Samual Gawith bulk tobacco by some e-tailors. It may be a result of an increase in the wholesale cost or e-tailors are simply responding to the huge demand. The fact is that Samual Gawith is just one of several companies where demand currently exceeds supply. The new Balkan Sobranie by Germain and Sons, Stonehaven and Penzance from Germain’s Esoterica label, and not so long ago, some of the Dunhill blends and blends from Dan were in short supply. Recently I witnessed the sale of four new, Germain made tins of Balkan Sobranie for one hundred and ninety eight dollars!

I have been taken aback by some of the venomous commentary on various forums and tobacco review sites. While some of the commentary has been directed at the tobacco companies themselves, much has been levied at the perceived “hoarders” of the blend in demand.

I have often wondered at what point does one go from being just a tobacco customer into the realm of tobacco “hoarder.” What is an acceptable purchase and what constitutes gluttony and who makes that determination? For some, anything more than a tin of a hard to find blend is more than enough. For others, any purchase up to a sleeve is acceptable. Yet, others may feel that anything that can be consumed in a lifetime should ultimately be the limit.

Does the number of bowls of tobacco per day consumed become part of that determination? If a pipe smoker like me smokes an average of ten bowls per day, does that qualify me for an additional number of tins? Should the pipeman (or woman) that smokes only one bowl per day be restricted from purchasing additional tins? It’s not a secret that many blends substantially improve with age and as a result, many pipers maintain a cellar for aging their favorite tobacco blends. Should there be dispensation for those folks? What about those that are concerned about ever increasing taxes and the possibility of restricted sales on the internet, should they be limited from stocking their shelves? Should eBay set a maximum bid limit of tinned tobacco?

It would nearly impossible to examine the issue of hoarding without including tobacco producers in the discussion. Do tobacco companies play any role in the hoarding debate? Is hoarding a result of companies not responding to the current demand? Assuming that the component tobaccos are readily available should they be investing in their business to create a greater supply? Do tobacco companies deliberately seek to keep demand higher than supply? Dare I say it, but should tobacco companies address the demand issue by raising prices in an effort to lessen demand to a manageable amount? Should pipe smokers direct some of their frustration at tobacco companies rather than their fellow pipe smokers?

Here in the United States, we are suffering through a difficult economy. It has become commonplace to question the acceptable amount of income a person should earn. Critics of high income earners often have the same nebulas amounts in mind. It is often said with the misguided belief that if one earns less, than others will earn more. Has that thinking found its way into the pipe tobacco world? Has an entitlement mentality crept into our hobby? If others simply bought less, would we be guaranteed the availability of our favorite blend? Would tobacco companies lose the incentive to produce more product to meet the current demand or would they lessen the amount produced to keep demand artificially high?

Whether we are discussing the availability and pricing of high grade pipes or the availability of our favorite tobacco blends, our hobby isn’t immune to the conditions of a capitalistic system. Arguably, it could be said that we are reaping the benefits of that system with the ever expanding blend and pipe choices available to today’s pipe smoker.

Pipe smokers understand limits all too well. The gentle art of pipe smoking is now a finable offense if you happen to be walking down a San Francisco street. My Sunday morning strolls through New York City’s Central Park are now off limits if that stroll includes my daily bowl full of Early Morning Pipe. With few exceptions, all pipe smokers are experiencing the unjust limitations imposed on our beloved hobby. Are those that chastise others for perceived hoarding seeking to further restrict the pipe smoking community or are they simply asking for some self imposed restrictions? If they seek pipe shops and e-tailors to limit the number of tins sold per sale, how does that affect the manufacturers in the long run? If self imposed restrictions are what they seek, there surely will never be consensus on those limits.

The subject of hoarding is an emotional one, but digging deeper into that subject leaves me with more questions than answers. Those that complain about pipe smokers hoarding tobacco are voicing their anger and frustration over their inability to obtain their favorite blends. On the surface it’s easy to understand that frustration. The challenge lies in identifying the solution. Anger and frustration are emotional responses to a mathematical problem concerning the law of supply and demand. The fact is that it is difficult, if not impossible to quantify an emotion.

Do the answers to the hoarding issue lie within those that are being critical? Have they taken advantage of the wealth of information that is available to today’s pipe smoker? Are they being so narrow in their blend choices that other exciting possibilities are being overlooked? We currently live in a world where access to hundreds of tobacco blends is just a mouse click away. Blend information and reviews are widely available and easily accessible as well.

Each of us will have to determine our own response to this issue. While we don’t have control over the hoarding situation, we do have control over our response to the shortages of our favorite blends. I can vote with my wallet as well as my emotions. I can choose do business only with retailers that place limits on hard to find blends. I can choose to spend my money with tobacco companies that work to meet demand. I can choose to pay a premium for a hard to find blend at a tin reseller. I can decide that I won’t let my frustration overtake my joy of pipe smoking or I can choose to be angry. The choice is mine to make. In the end, I choose to be happy and celebrate those that have been fortunate enough to find their favorite blend.

What choice will you make?

Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.