Although electrical heating elements (EHEs) were found to reduce some toxicants, they still increase others, reported researchers in ACS' Chemical Research in Toxicology.
Waterpipe tobacco smoking, otherwise known as "hookah" or "shisha," is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, especially among youth. Traditional hookahs burn charcoal as a heat source, but recently, electrical heating elements (EHEs) have been introduced to the market. Reinforced by product advertising and package labeling, many hookah smokers believe that EHEs are less harmful than charcoal.
In traditional hookahs, smokers burn charcoal on top of a tobacco preparation known as ma'ssel, a mixture of tobacco, glycerin, water and flavorings. The resulting smoke bubbles through water at the bottom of the pipe before being inhaled through a tube by the smoker. Previous studies have shown that charcoal contributes most of the harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and carbon monoxide found in hookah smoke. Therefore, manufacturers have developed EHEs for hookahs, in some cases advertising them as "toxicant-free" or "carbon monoxide-free." Alan Shihadeh and colleagues at the American University of Beirut wanted to investigate these claims by comparing the emissions of several major toxicants from waterpipes using EHEs or charcoal.