A tobacco pipe repair shop based in Florida but with clients worldwide has been banned from advertising its services on Facebook, thanks to the Faebook’s restrictive stance against tobacco ads. In an interview on Tuesday, the shop’s owner told PJ Media that tobacco pipes are far more than a tool for long-term lung damage, and Facebook needs to understand that. Instead, the enormous social media site is effectively restricting a multifaceted business.
“I wish I could just make Facebook understand that tobacco pipes aren’t just for smoking tobacco,” Ric Farrah, owner at Briarville Tobacco Pipe Repair and Restoration, told PJ Media. “We’ve done them for theater companies for props, for Civil War re-enactors, a guy sent a rock that was carved out by Native Americans 200 years ago!”
“Facebook allows me a page, Facebook.com/Briarville but will not allow me to sponsor or boost any content relative to my business,” he added.
Pipe smoking has a long and proud history, but today most of the industry’s business is carried out online, Farrah said. “American commerce was founded on tobacco,” the shop owner explained. “It used to be that you could go to a store and sample pipe tobacco. Now, the whole pipe industry has basically gone onto the Internet, there are very few brick-and-mortars left.”
This state of affairs makes advertising on Facebook that much more important. “My presence online has been boosted tremendously by Facebook,” Farrah explained.
Even so, about five years ago, he received a message that his company would be unable to advertise its products on the social networking site. He tried to “boost” a post featuring a pipe. “You can’t do that, this decision is unappealable,” the Briarville owner paraphrased. The response came as a punch to the gut. “Basically, go die.”
Facebook’s official policy on tobacco products remains restrictive. “Ads must not promote the sale or use of tobacco products and related paraphernalia,” the policy states (emphasis added).
The page explaining this policy laid out two acceptable tobacco-related examples and two unacceptable ones. “Blogs or groups connecting people with tobacco-related interests” are allowed, “as long as the service does not lead to the sale of tobacco or tobacco-related products.” Similarly, “anti-smoking campaigns and e-books” and other anti-smoking groups, products, and services, are allowed.
Facebook explicitly bans “tobacco or tobacco-related products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, tobacco pipes, hookahs, hookah lounges, rolling papers, vaporized delivery devices and electronic cigarettes.”
Apparently, the social media site interprets this blanket ban even on services to repair pipes that are not used for smoking purposes.
“The family heirlooms are the ones we’re most proud of,” Farrah told PJ Media. “I’ve had people literally send me stuff, and it sounded tearful, they were so happy they got [their fixed pipes] back.”
“It just brought back memories of them sitting in their grandfather’s lap when their grandfather was telling them stories,” he added, noting that there are “a lot of emotional bonds to these pipes.”
Farrah recalled one pipe in particular — a piece owned by a German soldier from the late 1800s.
“I just sent one out to a client yesterday,” the store owner recalled. “His great grandfather was a captain in the German army at the turn of the century. He sent me a picture of his grandfather in his German captain’s uniform. He was totally enamored by it.”
“The hobby is much broader than just smoking tobacco,” Farrah said.
That said, Briarville does not deal in pipes for other substances. “We’re adamant that it is just tobacco pipes. Occasionally, I’ll get an email to fix a bong or a glass pipe. Even for marijuana, we immediately send it back or turn down the request,” the owner explained. His website also insists that users have to be 18 years old to do business with Briarville.
Even with these restrictions and Facebook’s refusal to let Briarville advertise, business is booming. “We probably get about 30 shipments a week in varying numbers,” Farrah told PJ Media. “Our client list is over 2,000, and we’ve got repairs virtually in all corners of the earth.” He mentioned recent transactions involving customers in England, Canada, and Brazil.
Farrah insisted that he has no problem with Facebook deciding which businesses they will work with. “They have the right to do what they want, it’s their business,” he said. The real point of contention comes with “them being arbiters of what’s right and what’s wrong.”
The pipe repair shop owner mentioned the questions Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) posed to Facebook co-founder, chairman, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Cruz asked Zuckerberg about Facebook’s pattern of bias against conservatives, even censoring a German historian who said that Islam does not play a part in German history — except as the “Sword of Damocles.”
When it comes to bias in advertising, Farrah noted seeing sponsored ads for Planned Parenthood. “They’re trying to demonize tobacco as being evil and very politically incorrect, and yet they’ll sponsor stuff for an organization that murders children,” the pipe repair shop owner quipped.
Again, Farrah was not even arguing that Facebook should not be able to do business with Planned Parenthood — that would be a separate discussion — but he was pointing out the apparent hypocrisy of taking a moral stance against smoking-related ads while refusing to take a moral stance against the nation’s largest abortion provider.
“Say anything a liberal disagrees with, they don’t just disagree with you — they want to put you out of business,” he declared.
Ironically, he noted that in this case, Facebook has decided to “deny my ability to pay them to boost my stuff.”
The unique demonizing of tobacco — and even related products that are often not even used for smoking — proves notable in a society that prides itself on allowing people to live their own lives free of “judgment.” Smoking tobacco may be a vice that carries long-term health risks, but that does not mean society — and powerful companies like Facebook — should demonize every aspect of the industry.
Briarville repairs pipes — often historic pipes, family heirlooms, and theater props. Facebook’s decision to apply a blanket ban without exceptions may be the safest course for a huge social media company constantly subject to scrutiny. However, if ever there would be a good reason for Facebook to make an exception to its blanket ban on advertising any tobacco-related product, it would be for Briarville.