Hookah smoking has been around for hundreds of years and is smoked around the world. Here in the U.S. it is popular with teens and college students, but do they really know what they are smoking and how it will affect them? Besides the high levels of carbon monoxide from the charcoal used to heat the tobacco, scientists have found another health problem, as if the “heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals” weren’t enough. The researchers wanted to look at “the toxicity of hookah smoke on human lung cells.” It appears the heat source for the tobacco may be killing the cells.
The study looked at two types of commercially available charcoal and two ways of heating the tobacco: the conventional way using heated charcoal and the more modern way using electric heating disks. The disks are thought to be safer because there is no carbon monoxide emitted, and they were used as the control group. Both types of charcoal were tested using the same tobacco. When they tested the charcoal through chemical analysis they discovered one had higher levels of “heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic and lead” than the other. Lung cells were then exposed to “an extract of the resulting hookah smoke at different dilutions.”
Lower-toxin charcoal “killed about 10 percent of the lung cells after 48 hours.” The higher-toxin charcoal “killed about 25 percent of the lung cells.” When the researchers looked at the cells exposed to tobacco burned “electronically by a ceramic disk,” they discovered 80 percent of lung cells were killed. The ceramic disk, or e-coal, should have been safer because no toxic metals are released as they are when charcoal is burned.
Both charcoal and the e-coal heat the tobacco to 300 degrees Celsius (about 572 degrees Fahrenheit). But the e-coal is at a consistent temperature while charcoal cools every time someone inhales from the hookah pipe. While it is just a theory at the moment, researchers think the constant temperature released more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are linked to “a variety of cancers, including lung cancer.”
Hookah smoking remains popular among Florida youth, according to the 2015 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey. Between 2009 and 2015 hookah smoking is up 94.7% among middle school and 26.0% among high school students. While middle school students saw an increase of 0.2% between 2014 and 2015, high school students decreased 1.9% during the same time period. Hookah use among U.S. 12th-grade students declined for the first time in 2016. In the 12 month period from 2015 to 2016, use “fell by more than one-third, from 20 percent to 13 percent among 12th-grade students” (the only grade level tracked).
Hookah tobacco is now under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority and they want to understand “where the toxins are coming from.” How much smoke a person inhales will also determine how much exposure they receive. Could hookah smokers develop the same type of “cardiopulmonary diseases as chronic cigarette smokers?” You can expect more studies in the future.
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