Comparing smoke from hubbly bubblies – or water pipes – to cigarette smoke, researchers from the US University of Cincinnati found that water pipe smoke contained lower levels of four metals – arsenic, lead, cadmium and chromium – when compared to cigarette smoke.
A smoking trend that has recently gained popularity among youth, hubbly bubblies use specially prepared tobacco, called shisha — a moist, gooey concoction that may include molasses, honey and flavouring agents. Burning embers or charcoal heat the shisha, producing smoke that bubbles down through a container of water and into a long, hose-like tube with a mouthpiece for inhaling.
Lead researcher Joseph Caruso explained that researchers believe the pipe’s shisha – not the filtering of smoke through water – is responsible for the lower levels of metals in the pipe’s smoke. It seems that shisha itself may contain lower levels of metals, since Caruso’s team did not detect excess amounts of metals in pipe water.
However, Caruso emphasised that the findings do not indicate water pipe smoking is safer than cigarette smoking.
He added that differences in water pipes, also called “hookahs,” and cigarettes complicate interpretation of the findings’ health implications.
Studies have shown, for instance, that a typical hour-long water pipe smoking session involves 200 puffs, while an average cigarette is 20 puffs. The World Health Organisation estimates that an hour-long hookah session is equivalent to smoking up to ten packs of cigarettes. However, many people who smoke shisha smoke less frequently than cigarette smokers.