Thuoc Lao (thuốc lào) is a tobacco plant and is consumed only in Vietnam. It is most smoked after someone has eaten to “help in digestion”, or together with green tea or beer (most commonly the cheap “bia hoi”). A “hit” of thuoc lao is followed by a flood of nicotine to the bloodstream causing big dizziness that last a few seconds. It must be known that even heavy smokers have had trouble with the big volume of smoke and that side effects of smoking include nausea and vomiting.
The big difference between smoking thuoc lao and the usage of another 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 is made 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.
If offered a lighter, a Vietnamese person would politely decline on using it directly, and instead use a small piece paper to use as a flame. After he burns the tobacco he inhales to create a body of smoke inside the pipe. On the Vietnam’s capital streets in one little bag has enough tobacco for 5 to 8 “hits” retails at 2500 Vietnamese đồng, which is the same thing to about 15 US cents.
Bigger packs cost more than 20000 đồng and would represent almost $1.25 US Dollars.