UAE-based researchers identify harmful elements in alternative tobacco products

A team of researchers at the American University of Sharjah, AUS, in the United Arab Emirates, 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 a tobacco usually mixed with herbs and spices and used in medwakh conducted at the AUS has shown the presence of trace metals such as iron, lead, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and manganese. These are at concentrations similar to, if not higher than, cigarettes. Smoke emitted from these ATPs 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 on 31st May by the World Health Organisation, WHO. This year the theme is "Tobacco - A Threat to Development."

A research group from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, comprising faculty, students and staff members, has been carrying out health risk assessments and chemical analysis of shisha and medwakh smoke for a number of years. They have been supported by Dr. Yehya El-Sayed, Associate Professor of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Sarah Dalibalta, Assistant Professor of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, who have shared their findings at the Society for 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 was applied to characterise the tobacco materials and their smoke.

In a presentation entitled "Alternative Tobacco Products: What do we Know About Hookah and Medwakh?" he explained the method developed to sample and analyse the chemical composition of smoke from dokha and shisha. A robotic machine was used at AUS to simulate the human smoking process under controlled puffing conditions.

"There was 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 that have been reported among smokers of dokha and shisha. We also managed to identify many irritants to the eye, skin, nose, gastrointestinal and respiratory tract in the smoke of shisha and dokha," Dr. El-Sayed added.

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