Waterpipe tobacco waste as a source of toxic contaminants in the environment

Sina Dobaradaran, Thomas E. Novotny and Hossein Arfaeinia

Waterpipe tobacco smoking (WTS), commonly known as narghile, shisha, and hookah, is increasing worldwide, and with it, evidence of adverse health risks. WTS has been historically prevalent among youth and adults in Eastern Mediterranean countries, and it is increasingly popular in Eastern Europe and Western countries. Results from a national US survey in 2013-14 indicated that 13.5% of 15-17 year-olds reported any WTS, and 3% had used it over the last 30 days.

The toxicity of post-consumption tobacco product waste (TPW) such as cigarette butts on microorganisms, fish, and other species has been studied in the laboratory and is the subject of ongoing environmental exposure and mitigation policy research. The concerns for TPW arise from the fact that an estimated 845,000 tons of cigarette butts are littered worldwide each year. TPW may release contaminants such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into the environment.

The increasing popularity of WTS may be a source of environmental contamination due to discharge of burnt or partially-combusted residual products. A recent study found that of 10 grams of fresh tobacco consumed in each WTS session, nearly 71% (mean value of 7.1grams) remained as post-consumption waste. This waste is released into the environment in different ways. Unsmoked tobacco contains large amounts of hazardous chemicals, including aromatic amines, alkyls, carbonyls, heavy metals, PAHs, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX), aldehydes, and phenols, and its combustion leads to the production of additional contaminants as second-hand smoke.

Regardless of the discharge route, this waste may create environmental exposure risks, similar to those of other TPW. Toxic compounds may leach out of the WTS waste to pollute surface water and groundwater around landfill sites where such waste is deposited. The toxic chemicals in WTS can include the chemicals in fresh tobacco and the byproducts of burning, distillation, and pyrolysis of tobacco and the various other ingredients in WTS preparations. These include natural and artificial flavorings, humectants, and sweeteners.

Post-consumption WTS waste may be a source of hazardous contaminants in the environment. Further research is needed to determine the chemical composition of this waste as well as the leachates from it that may contaminate the environment. Informing the public, WTS consumers, hookah lounge proprietors and waste management authorities about the toxicity of this waste can lead to improved TPW management and reductions in overall WTS use as consumers and sellers become aware of its environmental toxicity.

Sina Dobaradaran is the Associate Professor at the Bushehr University of Medical Sciences, Iran

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