In disagreement with what is commonly believed, only a small part of heavy metals are actually eliminated in the supposed filtration process of smoking shisha, known also as hookah, explained a research study titled “Compartmental Analysis of Metals in Waterpipe Smoking Technique“ recently published in the BMC Public Health journal. According to the study, 3 percent of the heavy metals existent in tobacco, on average, are eliminated — an insignificant reduction that is not enough to protect smokers from being exposed to such toxins.
People often think that shish smoking is less hazardous than cigarette smoking because of the “filtering” process in the bubbling water. However, an average smoking session of shish, which can last an hour, can expose an individual to 100 to 200 times the amount of smoke of a single cigarette — an amount that can greatly predispose the lungs to both acute and chronic diseases.
Shisha originated in the 16th century from the Persian Empire, as a way of smoking a blend of tobacco, molasses, sugar or flavorings in which a waterpipe is used. Beneath the charcoal, the tobacco is heated and that heat pushes the smoke into the water; this action causes the bubbling and then the smoke leaves the container through a hose and is inhaled. The tobacco plant can absorb heavy metals from the soil and accumulate it; long term exposure to these substances increases the incidence of neck, head and lung cancers as well as other pulmonary diseases.
Researchers analyzed the presence of iron, copper, lead, chromium and uranium in 4 tobacco samples.
Akeel Al-Kazwini, leading researcher, said in a press release: “Since the trend of smoking waterpipe has increased markedly among the young in the last decade, not only in the Middle East but worldwide, our research adds to the evidence about its potential health hazards. It is also important to highlight the fact that water is mainly cooling the smoke, and not filtering it as is commonly believed.”
The results show about 3 percent of the total of heavy metals remain present in the water container; 57 percent in the smoke and 40 percent in ash residue. Uranium was most the most abundant metal present in the smoke. Although, researchers point out the fact that these are not representative conclusions but explain that people need to be aware of the hazards of shisha.
“At present, the waterpipe tobacco industry operates without regulation and the impact of health warning labels on waterpipe use has not been extensively investigated. It is therefore essential that regulators and policymakers prioritize the correct labelling of waterpipe tobacco products in order to ensure users are informed of the dangers,” concluded Akeel Al-Kazwini.