Silicone is a very versatile product. Silicone is used in a truly staggering amount of applications. Since it gained popularity in the early 1900’s, we have seen silicone be used in medical, automotive, personal, and even fire suppression products. Many children’s products and cookware are made of silicone to be safe and relatively non-toxic. Today I will discussing the viability of using silicone for a smoking apparatus.

Firstly, silicone is different from plastic or rubber as we commonly know it. Unlike most plastics, silicone is a interlinking chain of oxygen and silicon atoms. They have very different physical characteristics compared to similar products. There are a number of different silicone compounds that have differing organic groups attached to them. For example, there are methyl, ethyl, and also phenyl chains. These all can have different strengths and weaknesses. One could be a liquid, while another could be a hard plastic. Silicone is highly resistant to extreme temperatures, whether it be cold or hot. It has elastic strength, and does not shatter, which gives it unique uses for reducing stress on various components by dampening vibration. It also is not water soluble most of the time, making it ideal in the construction world for preventing water intrusion, leaks, or corrosion of different surfaces.

I think that part of the problem surrounding silicone compounds is that they are so useful and versatile, any negative health effects are hard to find and though extensive research was done many years ago, not much new research comes out about the effect it could possibly be having on our bodies now that we are integrated into a “silicone society”. Though normally a relatively inert set of compounds, silicone is not always impervious. Contrary to what most people think, silicone can combust, and when it does it releases silica dioxide, which is basically powdered silicone. Not much research has been done on what these fumes could be doing to our lungs. I don’t want to speculate, but I would like to see more research be done in this regard.

Since Kaloud released their silicone hookah bowl a year or two ago, there are a lot of questions regarding inhaling the smoke produced inside these bowls. There are two dangers to this. Firstly, there are knock off brands. Any cheap knockoff silicone bowl could use any number of “fillers” in their product. What I mean by this is that their silicone bowl might not be silicone at all, just rubber; it might be part rubber and part silicone. Kaloud uses an FDA approved silicone rubber, which is at least consistent. You know that with an approved silicone, you aren’t going to have cheap fillers in the silicone. This is a very good thing, as most plastic fillers are known to be very carcinogenic and toxic.

This leads to my second fear. According to a paper published by the chemist David Timpe, all silicone compounds release formaldehyde when heated to a specific set of temperatures in oxygen containing atmospheres. Between the temperatures of 300 and 482 degrees fahrenheit, almost every silicone compound releases the harmful compound. Typically, the higher the temperature, the higher concentration of formaldehyde is released. Certain organic preparations of silicone produce less, while others produce more. Coming in contact with oil-like substances help accelerate the release process under heat. Shisha juice very well could be an oil substance. If you check with a laser thermometer, you can see that a hookah bowl gets well within this range of temperatures.

So what is the big deal with formaldehyde? Well, for starters, it is highly toxic. Just drinking a shot glass of a 37% solution of formaldehyde would kill a person. Secondly, it is also carcinogenic. In low concentrations, it has been known to cause eye problems, as well as nasal irritation. In higher, but still minute concentrations, is has been linked to decreased pulmonary function. In children, it can cause asthma problems or even make existing breathing problems worse. In addition to this, it has been known to cause problems with fertility in women.

I don’t want to scare people away from using their favorite hookah bowl, but there is enough evidence for me to question whether using a silicone bowl for smoking is the right decision. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, and the research is vague in many aspects. Is the thermal benefit of using a silicone bowl worth having health problems down the road? What if those health problems could kill you? At this point, this is just food for thought, but shouldn’t someone address these questions now that silicone smoking products are becoming so popular?