From the Journals

Heart-harming toxins may hurt hookah smokers



Smoking a water pipe, or hookah, can result in significant inhalation of toxins and an increased risk for short- and long-term cardiovascular health problems, according to a scientific statement issued by the American Heart Association on March 8.

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In the statement, published in the journal Circulation, Aruni Bhatnagar, PhD, of the University of Louisville (Ky.) and his colleagues reviewed the potential dangers of water pipe use and offered strategies for prevention.

Data from the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that current use (defined as use within the past 30 days) of water pipes by high school students increased in a nonlinear trend from 4.1% in 2011 to 4.8% in 2016, with a peak of 9.4% in 2014. Water pipe tobacco is sold in flavors such as cherry, chocolate, and coffee that appeal to younger consumers, and epidemiology data suggest that youth view water pipes as safer than conventional cigarettes because the water “filters out toxins” according to the statement.

Findings from the National Adult Tobacco Survey showed an increase as well, from 1.5% during 2009-2010 to 3.2% during 2013-2014. Adults cite cultural and social influences, as well as psychological benefits of reduced stress and anger and improved concentration, which may be attributable to nicotine, the researchers noted.

Water pipe smoking involves placing charcoal briquettes on top of a tobacco-filled bowl with a stem immersed in water such that the smoke is pulled through and bubbles up through the water into a mouthpiece. The harmful or potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) involved in water pipe are similar to those in standard cigarettes and include tar, phenanthrene, carbon monoxide, heavy metals, and arsenic, as well as nicotine.

The patterns of exposure to toxins during water pipe smoking are unclear, the authors noted.

However, the risks for both short-term and long-term health effects are similar to those associated with cigarettes. “Overall, the short-term cardiovascular effects are consistent with the sympathomimetic effects of nicotine,” according to the statement.

Data on the long-term effects of water pipe smoking on cardiovascular health are limited, but “lifetime exposures exceeding 40 water pipe–years (2 water pipes per day for a total of 20 years or 1 water pipe for 40 years) are associated with a threefold increase in the odds of angiographically diagnosed coronary artery stenosis,” according to the statement. Additional research on long-term health effects may help guide regulation of water pipe products, the authors suggested.

The AHA statement encourages health care providers to take a proactive approach in addressing hookah use by asking patients about it, by advising those who use water pipes to quit, by assisting those who want to quit by providing counseling and social support, and by referring water pipe smokers to legitimate resources for information on the potential for addiction and health risks.

Dr. Bhatnagar received funding from the National Institutes of Health, but he had no other financial conflicts to disclose.

SOURCE: Bhatnagar A et al. Circulation. 2019 Mar 8. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000671.

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