I have always been intrigued by pipe smoking. I have even thought about giving it a whirl to try it out. However, I don't want to invest a whole bunch of money for something that I may not take up regularly. How much money should I be willing to spend to get started? Then, how much will it cost to continue to smoke if I decide to continue? is it comparable to cigar smoking?
Let me preface everything I am going to say with this: we are a cigar store that offers a limited selection of pipe tobacco and even more limited selection of pipes, just enough to offer a service to customers, not get into the pipe business.
We offer two different "levels" of pipes: $30 "basket" pipes and then one single brand of "premium" pipes: Peterson. We only offer the regular lines from Peterson, not high grades, so we don't carry a pipe that costs more than $150, and few that we carry cost more than $100.
Here's what we generally suggest for someone who is getting started and doesn't know if they will stick with it: buy one of the basket pipes (most stores will offer something like this), as this will be something that you can afford to not use if you don't stick with it, but on the other hand, will be a decent starter pipe if you start to enjoy smoking a pipe and really turn into a serious pipe smoker. Then, we have samples both to smell and taste of our tobaccos (all tinned, no bulk). Most people can decide pretty quickly whether they want to start with aromatic tobaccos or whether they want a mild virginia or english blend (and some do opt for something like Dunhill's Early Morning Pipe). When a person is making a purchase like this we know they are unsure about what they want as they are both new to it and don't even know if they will continue with it. Also, things like tampers and pipe cleaners are high-margin items for retailers. So, if a person buys a basket pipe and a tin of tobacco then I always through in a tamper and a bag of pipe cleaners, and possibly even a plastic folding pipe stand if they are buying multiple tins or a Peterson instead of a basket pipe. I want their first experience with a pipe to be enjoyable, not something they regret if they don't enjoy it at first or have trouble getting used to it. I guess what I am saying is that if you are willing to invest up to $40-$50 for a starter pipe and a tin or two of some premium tobacco then you will quickly be able to learn whether or not you might enjoy learning to smoke a pipe. It can be done for less than that, but if you can afford $40 to give it a try then you will really get some decent quality tobacco and starter pipe. You wouldn't want your experience to be ruined by the tobacco itself. However, the corncob pipe mentioned is certainly a good option for even less money.
Now, let's say that you do enjoy it and become a true pipe smoker. To answer your question I would say that cost-wise it is quite similar to cigar smoking and both cigar smoking and pipe smoking are hobbies that are limited only by your budget. While enough super-premium pipe tobacco for a 1 hour smoke costs a lot less than a super-premium cigar, you will find yourself developing two very serious disorders: P.A.D. & T.A.D. (Pipe Acquisition Disorder and Tobacco Acquisition Disorder). Just like cigars you will eventually want to build up both a good selection of tobacco, but also a good inventory of your favorites to put away for aging.
But P.A.D. is where the cost really hit me hard. Tobacco is relatively inexpensive. Pipes, however, can be EXTREMELY expensive, especially by the dozen
The bottom line is that you can give pipe smoking a whirl for a very small investment and if you like it you can let it grow as much or as little as you want and can afford. It is a great hobby and you will meet great people in the pipe smoking community (just as you will in the cigar smoking community).
I hope that you at least give it a try and report back on your experience.