Study finds hookah tobacco labels to be misleading

Researchers have found that many hookah tobacco labels incorrectly state nicotine levels.
By Amy Wallace   |   Dec. 19, 2016 at 2:41 PM
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BUFFALO, N.Y., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- A new study shows that the labeling on hookah tobacco products is misleading and may pose more significant health risks to the consumer than previously thought.

Hookah tobacco comes in a variety of flavors and is smoked through the use of a waterpipe. It is an increasingly popular form of smoking especially among adolescents who think it is less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

Researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the University at Buffalo published a study showing that nicotine content and pH levels on hookah product labels are often misleading.

Nicotine content and pH levels of 140 different packages from 12 foreign-made and U.S.-made hookah tobacco products were analyzed in three groups for the three types of hookah tobacco: washed, unwashed and herbal.

Researchers found the nicotine levels in washed products were 236 percent higher than the product labeling claimed. Levels of nicotine in unwashed products were 71 percent lower than what the labels claimed and herbal products had nicotine levels similar to what the labels claimed.

"The nicotine content of waterpipe tobacco is highly variable, much more so than we see with other tobacco products," Mark Travers, Ph.D., senior author of the study and a research assistant in the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park, said in a press release. "In this study, we found that many of the labels were erroneous, with actual levels of nicotine varying anywhere from 75 percent less to three times higher than the amount stated on packaging."

Not only were nicotine levels inaccurate, but pH levels were also found to vary significantly from the labeling, which is important because higher pH levels allow nicotine to be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream.

"Regulating warning labels will aid waterpipe tobacco users in understanding the product they are consuming," Travers, who is also a research assistant professor of community health and health behavior in UB's School of Public Health and Health Professions, said.

The study was published in Tobacco Regulatory Science.

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