Smoking a water pipe, or hookah, was a favorite pastime as well as a social custom for the inhabitants of Central Asia. In a hookah, air is pulled through burning coal and into a bowl containing a tobacco mixture, producing smoke. Drawn along the tube, smoke bubbles up through the water to the top of the jar and into the mouthpiece.

In Asia, people had historically used hookahs to smoke herbal fruits, cannabis and opium many centuries before tobacco leaves arrived from America in the 1600s. As opium contains morphine, hookahs were also used to alleviate pain.