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Battelle Health & Analytics Newsletter

Battelle Health & Analytics Newsletter

Standardized Waterpipe Yields Better Data for Tobacco Research

The popularity of waterpipes for tobacco smoking is growing rapidly nationally and worldwide, especially among youth. However, with a wide variety of available waterpipe designs, materials, accessories and tobacco products, it has been difficult to determine how different components might impact puffing behavior and subsequent exposure to toxins. Researchers at the Battelle Public Health Center for Tobacco Research have developed and validated a standardized research-grade waterpipe (RWP) in order to support a better understanding of the relationship between users’ behavior and their toxin exposures.

The study, published by the Oxford Journal of Nicotine & Tobacco Research, validates the use of an RWP developed by Battelle researchers for waterpipe tobacco exposure and behavioral studies. The RWP can be configured with an in-line topography system that allows for the real-time measurement and recording of smoke volume through the RWP. In order to calibrate and validate the device, researchers collected quantitative and qualitative data from experienced waterpipe smokers in a highly controlled laboratory setting.

The device was well accepted by experienced users, who rated it similarly to commonly used waterpipes in terms of satisfaction and reward. It also delivered highly reproducible quantitative results, where puff volumes agreed strongly with true values. Because the RWP operates with known precision and accuracy and is well accepted by experienced smokers, it gives tobacco researchers a reliable tool to gather data for future studies involving waterpipes.

Further research is urgently needed to better understand the public health implications of increased waterpipe use. Over the last decade, the popularity of the devices has exploded among teens, most noticeably in the Middle East and North Africa but now spreading rapidly in the U.S. and Europe. In 2010 - 2012, the most recent data available, 18% of U.S. high school seniors reported that they had used a waterpipe in the past year. However, little is understood about the comparative risks of different waterpipe designs and products and how different accessories may impact user behavior and exposure.

For example, how do popular flavor additives for waterpipes—available in flavors such as chocolate, apple or mango—impact consumer appeal, puffing behavior and overall toxin exposure? How do nicotine levels impact user behaviors such as puff volume, duration and number? This standardized RWP will allow for more accurate, precise and reproducible data collection in order to answer these and other critical questions related to waterpipe use.