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Evidence of compensation among waterpipe smokers using harm reduction components


Objectives We examined two waterpipe tobacco smoking components advertised to reduce harm to determine if they result in lower levels of biomarkers of acute exposure.

Methods We conducted a crossover study of 34 experienced waterpipe smokers smoking a research-grade waterpipe in three configurations ad libitum in a controlled chamber: control (quick-light charcoal), electric (electric heating) and bubble diffuser (quick-light charcoal and bubble diffuser). We collected data on smoking topography, environmental carbon monoxide (CO), subjective effects, heart rate, plasma nicotine and exhaled CO and benzene.

Results Smokers’ mean plasma nicotine, heart rate, and exhaled benzene and CO boost were all significantly lower for electric compared with control. However, smokers puffed more intensely and took significantly more and larger volume puffs for a larger total puffing volume (2.0 times larger, p<0.0001) when smoking electric; machine yields indicate this was likely due to lower mainstream nicotine. Smokers rated electric smoking experience less satisfying and less pleasant. For charcoal heating, the mean mass of CO emitted into the chamber was ~1 g when participants smoked for a mean of 32 minutes at a typical residential ventilation rate (2.3 hr−1).

Conclusion Waterpipe smokers engaged in compensation (i.e., increased and more intense puffing) to make up for decreased mainstream nicotine delivery from the same tobacco heated two ways. Waterpipe components can affect human puffing behaviours, exposures and subjective effects. Evidence reported here supports regulation of waterpipe components, smoking bans in multifamily housing and the use of human studies to evaluate modified or reduced risk claims.

  • addiction
  • nicotine
  • secondhand smoke
  • carcinogens
  • global health

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