Waterpipe smoke: source of toxic and carcinogenic VOCs, phenols and heavy metals?

Arch Toxicol. 2015 Nov;89(11):2129-39. doi: 10.1007/s00204-014-1372-x. Epub 2014 Sep 24.


The use of the waterpipe, a traditional aid for the consumption of tobacco, has spread worldwide and is steadily increasing especially among the youth. On the other hand, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the composition of mainstream waterpipe smoke and the toxicological risks associated with this kind of smoking habit. Using a standardized machine smoking protocol, mainstream waterpipe smoke was generated and further analyzed for twelve volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and eight phenolic compounds by applying gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography-fluorescence detection, respectively. Additionally, seventeen elements were analyzed in waterpipe tobacco and charcoal prior to and after smoking, applying inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry to assess the maximum exposure of these elements. For the first time ever, we have been able to show that waterpipe mainstream smoke contains high levels of the human carcinogen benzene. Compared with cigarette smoke yields, the levels were 6.2-fold higher, thus representing a significant health hazard for the waterpipe smoker. Furthermore, we found that waterpipe mainstream smoke contains considerable amounts of catechol, hydroquinone and phenol, each of which causing some health concern at least. The analysis of waterpipe tobacco and charcoal revealed that both matrices contained considerable amounts of the toxic elements nickel, cadmium, lead and chromium. Altogether, the data on VOCs, phenols and elements presented in this study clearly point to the health hazards associated with the consumption of tobacco using waterpipes.

Keywords: Elements; Hookah; Phenolic compounds; Shisha; Volatile organic compounds; Waterpipe smoke.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens / analysis
  • Carcinogens / isolation & purification
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Metals, Heavy / isolation & purification
  • Phenols / analysis*
  • Phenols / isolation & purification
  • Smoke / analysis*
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Spectrophotometry, Atomic / methods
  • Tobacco / chemistry
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / isolation & purification


  • Carcinogens
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Phenols
  • Smoke
  • Volatile Organic Compounds