American University of Sharjah

AUS researchers identify harmful elements present in shisha charcoal, dokha and their smoke

tobacco products

AUS researchers identify harmful elements present in shisha charcoal, dokha and their smoke

May 30, 2017

A team of researchers at American University of Sharjah (AUS) has been working hard to dispel the notion that alternative tobacco products (ATPs) such as shisha and medwakh (a small smoking pipe popular in the region) are somehow less harmful than cigarettes. Research on a wide variety of commercially popular shisha charcoals and dokha tobacco (a tobacco usually mixed with herbs and spices and used in medwakh) conducted at the university has shown the presence of trace metals such as iron, lead, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and manganese at concentrations similar to, if not higher than, cigarettes and emitted smoke from these ATPs to contain a wide range of compounds including carcinogens and central nervous system (CNS) depressants that can adversely impact health.

The research was released on the occasion of the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) marked on May 31 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The theme for World No Tobacco Day 2017 is "Tobacco - a threat to development."

Comprising faculty, students and staff members, a research group from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences has been carrying out the health risk assessment and chemical analysis of shisha and medwakh smoke for a number of years, with Dr. Yehya El-Sayed, Associate Professor in Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Sarah Dalibalta, Assistant Professor in Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, sharing their findings at the Society of Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT) since 2012.

Speaking at the recently held Emirates International Forensic Conference and Exhibition, Dr. El-Sayed shared the experimental work done at the university where a wide range of analytical techniques were applied to characterize the tobacco materials and their smoke. In a presentation entitled "Alternative Tobacco Products (ATPs): What do we know about hookah and medwakh?" he explained the method developed to sample and analyze the chemical composition of smoke from dokha and shisha where a robotic machine was used at AUS to simulate the human smoking process under controlled puffing conditions.

Dr. El-Sayed said that there is plenty of evidence to support how harmful shisha is, with several cases of death being reported worldwide as a result of intoxication following shisha smoking. He added that there were also many reported cases of induced seizures among dokha smokers, which resulted from the extremely high nicotine concentrations, as well as cases of carbon monoxide intoxication among shisha smokers.

"Our research has identified many CNS depressants which could be associated with symptoms such as dizziness, incoordination, nausea, unconsciousness, fatigue, drowsiness, tension and sweating which have been reported among smokers of dokha and shisha," said Dr. El-Sayed. "We also managed to identify many irritants to the eye, skin, nose, gastrointestinal and respiratory tract in the smoke of shisha and dokha," he added.

The research work undertaken thus far by the AUS team has provided new insights into subject, said Dr. Mahmoud Anabtawi, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). "Our university has always been committed to conducting research that has a meaningful impact upon society and this subject is one of particular significance where health issues are concerned," said Dr. Anabtawi. "As with other important fields, research on ATPs and their harmful effects can greatly benefit from external funding resources that can help it move at a faster pace," he added.

To spread awareness and highlight the health hazards presented by ATPs, the AUS research team has initiated plans to put together a task force of faculty and students at the university that will initiate a national outreach program. It has reiterated its commitment to continue conducting further research in this area and share its findings with the scientific community as well as the general public. It has also has expanded its research focus to include other types of ATPs such as e-cigarettes and vapes.

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