Thuoc lao

Thuoc lao

Thuoc Lao "(thuốc lào)" is a tobacco grown and consumed exclusively in Vietnam. It is most commonly smoked after a meal on a full stomach to "aid in digestion", or along with green tea or local beer (most commonly the cheap "bia hoi"). A "hit" of thuoc lao is followed by a flood of nicotine to the bloodstream inducing strong dizziness that last several seconds. It should be said however that even heavy smokers have had trouble with the intense volume of smoke and that side effects include nausea and vomiting, as with any tobacco-related experience.


The main difference between smoking thuoc lao and the use of other tobaccos is in the method of consumption. The smoker is presented with a bamboo pipe called a "điếu cày " (literal translation: "farmer's pipe"). The pipe consists of a small wooden bowl thrust into a long cylindrical shaft. The shaft is separated three quarters of the way from the top with a thin layer of bamboo with a hole in the middle.

The pipe is filled with an appropriate amount of water and a small amount of thuoc lao is pressed into the bowl. Typically, the substance is lit with one or two matches. If offered a lighter, a Vietnamese person would politely decline on using it directly, and instead ignite a small piece of bark or paper to use as a flame.

One then ignites the tobacco and inhales to create a body of smoke inside the pipe, before exhaling the smoke, reversing the process of air in the pipe by blowing into it to pop out the tobacco. The smoker then sharply inhales, usually tilting the pipe upwards to an almost horizontal position (but not completely as the water would drain out the mouth).


Typically, on the streets of Vietnam's capital of Hanoi a small bag containing enough tobacco for 5 to 8 "hits" retails at 2500 Vietnamese đồng, which is equivalent to about 15 US cents. Larger packs cost up to 20000 "đồng" and would be about $1.25 US Dollars. The use of thuoc lao is always out of the bamboo pipe, which can range from 10000 "đồng" to upwards of 50000 "đồng" for items with extravagant carving and other designs.

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