Bong [bawng]; a.k.a. water pipe, rig;
A "bong" is a device, usually made from borosilicate glass, used to smoke tobacco, marijuana (legal states) and other smokable herbs. A bong is filled with water and may be equipped with percolators, nails or other attachments.
The word itself is actually onomatopoeia; meaning it's a sound. Say it aloud and tell me it's not a sound... you can't.
So why is it so questionable to use the word in smoke shops?
Dictionary.com describes the word as "a type of hookah or water pipe for smoking marijuana or other drugs". They failed to mention, tobacco smokers first adopted the use of a bong.
Due to this notion, if you call it a "BONG", then it's to be used with drugs. Therefore, if a shop employee were to hear you say the word, it could end the fate of you getting that brand new, top shelf, glass piece you've been waiting to buy.
Seems more sensible to use the term "water pipe" when shopping in a local store.
Unlike a hand pipe, a water pipe sits upright and is filled with water to diffuse smoke; before it reaches your mouth. The forever loved sound of a smoking water pipe, has become a trademark for many movies and shows.
Also, unlike a hand pipe, most water pipes are not portable. It's size can intimidate some, but for most, a pipe filled with water is preferred.
Next time you stop into the shop, don't hesitate to gander the big ones and take a step outside your comfort zone. You won't regret it.