Biomarkers of Waterpipe Tobacco Smoke Exposure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Yong Yang Yan, Fen Ye, Mu Hsing Ho, Karly Cheuk Yin Yeung, Jung Jae Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction: The prevalence of waterpipe tobacco smoking is increasing globally. Biomarkers of waterpipe tobacco smoke (WTS) exposure are less studied. Aims and Methods: To identify the types of biomarkers of WTS exposure and estimate changes in biomarker concentrations pre-to post-WTS exposure. PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, CINAHL Plus, PsycINFO, and Cochrane Library were searched for studies up to April 24, 2023. The types of biomarkers were identified. Random-effects models were used to estimate changes in biomarker concentrations pre-to post-WTS exposure. Results: Seventy-Three studies involving 3755 participants exposed to WTS (49% male, mean age: 24.8 years) and 11 types of biomarkers of WTS exposure were identified. The biomarkers included tobacco alkaloids, expired carbon monoxide (eCO), carboxyhemoglobin (COHb), tobacco-specific nitrosamines, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals, unmetabolized VOCs, unmetabolized PAHs, furan metabolites, and heterocyclic aromatic amines. Compared with pre-WTS exposure, eCO (breath; mean difference [MD] 27.00 ppm; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 20.91 to 33.08), COHb (blood; MD 4.30%; 95%CI: 2.57 to 6.03), COHb (breath; MD 7.14%; 95%CI: 4.96 to 9.31), nicotine (blood; MD 8.23 ng/mL; 95%CI: 6.27 to 10.19), and cotinine (urine; MD 110.40 ng/mL; 95%CI: 46.26 to 174.54) significantly increased post-WTS exposure. Conclusions: Biomarkers of WTS exposure were systematically identified. The similarity between the biomarkers of WTS exposure and those of cigarette smoke and higher concentrations of some biomarkers post-WTS exposure underscore the need for further research on applying biomarkers in surveillance, interventions, and regulations to mitigate the harms of waterpipe tobacco smoking. Implications: This study provides the first comprehensive overview of biomarkers investigated and available for assessing WTS exposure and their concentration changes in the human body. Researchers can use biomarkers such as eCO, COHb, nicotine, and cotinine to measure the health risks associated with WTS exposure and objectively evaluate the effectiveness of public health interventions aimed at reducing waterpipe tobacco smoking. Public health policymaking can also be informed through increased biomarker concentrations following WTS exposure, to implement regulations and public health education campaigns on limiting or preventing waterpipe tobacco smoking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)655-662
Number of pages8
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number6
Early online date29 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2024
Externally publishedYes

Data Availability Statement

The data supporting the findings of this study can be accessed in the supplementary materials provided, as well as in the original articles cited in the paper.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine

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