Kari Thomas, a member of The Smokin’ Hot Ladies Club, gives beginning smokers an introduction to pipes and filtered cigars. Katie Eubanks/The Clarion-Ledger
Editor’s note: Some full names and last names withheld according to club members’ preference.
JACKSON, Miss. — Almost as soon as I walked in, I was offered a White Russian. These gals are all right.
Snacks sat on the kitchen island. Women, pouring drinks, talked about their church directory and how different their photos looked four years ago — this could be a Bible study with booze. Then we went out to the porch.
Nobody looked around the corner to see if the hostess’ kids were watching. They just lit their pipes, cigars and cigarillos and began to talk.
And they didn’t just talk about cigars, either, though that came up. They talked about kids, husbands, church, dating and divorce, the pros and cons of Nair use, and other topics not suitable for mixed company. We did look around the corner then.
Club membership is by invitation only, for a reason. “If it gets too big or too far outside of (our initial group), the fellowship may not lend itself quite so readily to the openness we have,” one member* said.
It all started at a friend’s birthday party. Club member Candace remembers asking another woman if she smoked. The answer was yes. Then a third lady piped up. “(It turned out) everybody but the birthday girl smoked,” club member Sheila recounted. By August, they were meeting once a month. Their (secret) Facebook group now has 12 members.
Sonya Frisby, 36, is the life of the Smokin’ Hot Ladies party. She is, to use a tobacco term, unfiltered. “That’s probably why my boyfriend is constantly mad at me. (But) I’m working on it,” she said. In the few hours I was there, she revealed more about herself than I’ve told some of my best friends. We forgot she was the only one not drinking. And she dressed to the nines for the photos: platform heels, leather pants, cardigan — all black.
My friend Kari Thomas, Sonya’s cousin, is also a member of the group. She favors pipes over cigars. “(Smoking) cigars feels like I have a weight on my chest,” she said. So she buys tobacco in little plastic bags and puts it in a pipe like C.S. Lewis.
Speaking of, I’ve observed that cigars and pipes seem to be a trend among intellectual Christians, especially those of the Reformed tradition, which The Smokin’ Hot Ladies are. Sheila (who came up with the punny name) started smoking with friends from Reformed University Fellowship in college. Kari told of attending an RUF conference where plenty of students were puffing away. Even my own roommate, who smokes a pipe, is Reformed.
What is it about pipes and cigars that appeals to Reformed women? My roommate has a theory about rejecting conservative Christian stereotypes — and yes, group members trade stories about all the things they weren’t allowed to do growing up — but I think the Smokin’ Hot Ladies are just enjoying themselves.
“I like the taste of cigars. (And) it’s a fun thing for me and the hubby to do together,” Sheila said.
“(It’s) more about enjoying something with friends than getting any sort of ‘fix,'” another member said.
Where Sonya grew up, in Natchez, plenty of women smoked cigars and pipes.
One Smokin’ Hot Lady’s husband and (grown) daughter even smoke together. It’s their context for conversations and bonding.
What about all that smoke, though? Cigars are considered less dangerous than cigarettes, but they can still cause cancer. Most of The Smokin’ Hot Ladies are un-bothered by this.
“I don’t (smoke) that often,” Kari said. “I’m more concerned with how frequently I go to Wendy’s.” Another member mentioned her own penchant for Mexican food.
When asked if she worries about cigar-related health risks, Sonya replied with three words: “Not at all.”
At one point on the porch, I looked around the table and made a mental count. Three black, three white. Three married, three not. The ages ranged from 20s to 40s — 27 to 43, I found out later. (There’s a 21-year-old who couldn’t make it, and a 60-year-old who joined the group at the end of the month.) That was pretty cool.
Sheila said members have two things in common: “They love Jesus (and) cigars or pipes. Number one makes this group even possible. Most of the time when you get a bunch of women together who are this different, it ends up in a fight. It’s only God’s grace and love that keeps that from happening.”
Early in the evening, a group member offered me a Djarum brand “Bali Hai” cigarillo, which looks like a cigarette and is like a baby cigar. The only thing I’d ever smoked before then was hookah — and that was only because my brother wouldn’t stop bugging me about it.
Eventually I took a cigarillo, a Smokin’ Hot Lady helped me light it, and I proceeded to smoke. This is so weird. My parents are gonna be shocked.
One good thing about cigars: You suck the smoke into your mouth but not your lungs. I didn’t even cough.
I tried to hold my baby cigar-type-thing the way a cool chick would do. It felt unnatural. I tried to flick the ash like in the movies. That didn’t work either. I had to deliberately brush the end of the cigarillo on the ashtray.
Maybe the fancy way comes with time. Until then I’ll content myself with having been a Smokin’ Hot Lady, at least for one night.