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Shishas, tattoos and bubble tea - cool but risky?

30/2012, 04.10.2012

As part of a student workshop, the BfR provides consumer protection information to young adults

Does the smoke of water pipes contain fewer pollutants than cigarettes? Are tattoo inks actually tested for side effects? How much sugar does bubble tea contain? These were some of the questions that occupied the minds of 120 students as part of a student workshop held at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment on 25 September 2012. At six different meeting points dedicated to specific topics, the students gained insight into the work of the BfR. Thereafter, the 14 to 16-year-olds discussed what they had learned with presenter Dr. Mark Benecke. "Many products assessed by the BfR are also of interest to young adults", said Professor Dr. Reiner Wittkowski, Vice President of the BfR during the event opening lecture. "As part of our risk communication, we would like to reach this target group too." The student workshop is part of the special events which the BfR is organising to celebrate its tenth anniversary.

A total of 118 students from four different Berlin districts came to the event at the BfR location in Marienfelde. Following lectures on the subject of poisoning and tattoo inks, the youths had the opportunity to learn more about the work of the BfR by participating in different workshops. They were told, for example, what ingredients are contained in energy drinks and food supplements and what their potential health risks are. At the bubble tea station, the students determined the sugar content of the trendy drink for themselves and made their own “bobas”, i.e. pearl tapioca. At the tobacco meeting point, the health risks posed by smoking water pipes and e-cigarettes were explained to the students. Two further meeting points informed the students that the BfR also conducts research on alternative methods to replace animal experiments.

The main focus of the event was on providing information about the subject of tattoos. BfR experts explained to the students the potential unwanted side effects of tattoos and the ingredients of tattoo inks. In a discussion forum held in the afternoon, the students shared their experiences and ideas. After presenter Mark Benecke was tattooed live, two BfR experts, a Berlin-based tattoo artist, a dermatologist, and a patient talked about the unwanted side effects of tattoos such as infections, cicatrisation and allergic reactions. It was pointed out to the students that the long-term effects of tattoos are still unknown and that developing safe tattoo inks poses a considerable challenge. The reason for this is that no meaningful scientific studies are currently available on which to base authorisation of tattoo inks that are safe in the long term.

The feedback on the workshop and individual booths provided by the students was summarised in the form of drawings by an illustrator during the discussion. These “graphic recordings” as well as a film about the day will soon be published on the BfR website.

On the occasion of its tenth anniversary, the BfR has published a special brochure. Beside examples from 10 years of scientific work in the service of consumer health protection, the 43-page brochure also contains background information on the institute, its working method and history. The brochure “10 Years of BfR” can be downloaded or ordered free of charge at

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.


Publications - Brochures

Date Title Size
BfR Anniversary Brochure
10th Anniversary of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment 4.0 MB


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