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School & Program Updates

Florida International Researchers Unveil Clinical Research Lab for Tobacco Smoking

The Department of Epidemiology at Florida International University’s (FIU) Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work unveiled the first clinical research laboratory for tobacco smoking in South Florida to assess the impact that waterpipe (aka hookah) flavored tobacco has on smokers.

[Photo: (left to right: Dr. Ziyad Ben Taleb, Dr. Mayra Vargas-Rivera, Dr. Wasim Maziak]

The Stempel College research team—Dr. Wasim Maziak (principal investigator), Dr. Ziyad Ben Taleb (project director) and Dr. Mayra Vargas-Rivera (lab manager)—are the first to evaluate this highly addictive and misperceived tobacco use method in a clinical lab setting, as its popularity grows statewide and nationally—especially among youth.

[Photo: Dr. Ziyad Ben Taleb and participant in the hookah study, Mr. John Cibotti]

Supported through 2019 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), the team’s cutting-edge smoking lab is serving as a model for expanded research capabilities at FIU to investigate novel methods for tobacco use and the effects on smokers.

[Photo: hookah study participant, Ms. Paulina Bollat]

“Creating space for this lab holds a lot of significance as we grow,” said Dr. Tomás Guilarte, Dean of Stempel College. “It puts our team at the forefront as they build on the pioneering tobacco-related studies they’ve done in the past.”

[Photo: hookah study participant, Ms. Paulina Bollat and Dr. Mayra Vargas-Rivera]

The on-campus lab is fully equipped with five computer stations, real-time monitoring equipment for vital signs and the latest technology for smoking topography (i.e., puff count, puff volume, average flow, puff duration and interpuff interval).

The lab has a reception area and an isolated smoking room with the comforts of a hookah lounge setting. The research looks at beginners as well as experienced hookah smokers, to measure the effects of flavored hookah tobacco on satisfaction, dependence, harm perception, exposure to toxicants (nicotine, carbon monoxide), as well as on smoking behavior (puffing patterns).

Ultimately, understanding flavor-related harm perception, addiction, and toxicants exposure is key because hookah users (as well as the public) see hookah as a less harmful alternative to cigarette smoking. The research team believes that flavor has a lot to do with a smoker’s satisfaction, exposures, and harm perception, thus their research will inform regulatory agencies like the FDA about the expected effect of flavor regulation on hookah smokers and potential smokers.

According to Tobacco Free Florida’s 2014 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, more than six percent of middle school students and 22.5 percent of high school students reported ever smoking hookah. The state’s prevalence rates have increased by 127.6 percent among middle school students and by 66.7 percent among high school students since the annual survey launched in 2008, yet public awareness lags behind.