Tough to Swallow

27 August 2004

Alcohol without Liquid Comes to New York

Last week-end, New Yorkers could inhale their gin, vodka and rum literally rather than figuratively. A machine, already in use in Europe and Asia, allows one to breathe in a vaporized liquor. It's low-carb, low-calorie, and because it's oxygen enriched, it reduces the hangover the morning after. The AWOL machine is already illegal in New South Wales, Australia, because of health and public safety concerns. Immediately north of New York City, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano is already trying to get rid of the device. Clearly, this case of doing something stupid shouldn't be aggravated by making that something illegal.

Alcohol is a drug, and like any drug, there are those who can't handle it. The method of delivery of any drug will affect its potency and the effectiveness of the dose. Injection is usually the most efficient method of deliver, oral ingestion far less so, while breathing (or smoking) the fumes is somewhere in between. So what the AWOL machine does is deliver ethanol more efficiently (in the sense that it hits faster and harder) than simply drinking the booze.

Spirit Partners, the American distributor of the machine, says it won't beat a breathalyzer (since the alcohol still enters via the mouth), and it should only be used once an hour and no more than twice in a 24-hour period, while maintaining that AWOL isn't any more dangerous than drinking. The company says that the effect is immediate because the ethanol hits the bloodstream much faster. Detractors say the same thing.

The difficulty with banning the AWOL machine is the legality of alcohol itself. The machine is nothing more than a glorified atomizer, so the question becomes one of use. When used to spray perfume, an atomizer would be legal, but when used to spray alcohol, it would be criminal. How many millions would need to be spent to make sure that the Jack Daniels in someone's bloodstream went via the stomach rather than the lungs?

A far better way to deal with this is to leave it alone, and let this silly fad die of its own accord. In England about 25 years ago, there was a similar fad among a much more serious drug-abuse crew, which involved injecting ethanol. While it still may occur, it never really caught on after one rather stupid summer among a few rather stupid people (who were also doing far worse things to themselves). Besides, a decent Scotch is too expensive for anything but proper sipping. And life is too short to drink the cheap stuff.

Copyright 2004 by The Kensington Review, J. Myhre, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent.


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