In a 2006 video demonstrating AWOL (Alcohol Without Liquid), a machine that mixes ethanol with oxygen and delivers the resulting mist through a tube, a British guy sucking on "The Ultimate Party Tool" exclaims, "In 10 years' time, I can see everybody doing this." Although AWOL still has another year to catch on, by now it is fair to say that prediction was overly optimistic. Back then, however, the prospect that inhalation would replace drinking as Americans' favorite way of consuming alcohol terrified legislators so much that they pre-emptively banned AWOL-like devices in at least 22 states. In a story posted today, the Asbury Park Press tries to revive the alcohol inhalation panic by pointing with alarm at the Vaportini, a low-tech but more elegant and much cheaper alternative to AWOL that has been on the market for a few years, and this dude, who demonstrates on YouTube how to get drunk by sucking vapor from a soda bottle containing alcoholic beverages pressurized with a bicycle pump.
The headline on the story: "Smoking Alcohol: The Next Jersey Shore Killer?" At least they used a question mark.
"'Smoking alcohol' has emerged as a trend in some places over the past two years," the paper reports. "With it has come a hailstorm of scrutiny from the medical profession." Seeding the clouds for that storm, reporter Jerry Carino asks Jeremy Dayner, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, to express concern about this putative trend. Dayner obliges. "If used correctly, [the Vaportini] would be no more dangerous than drinking alcohol," he says. "The problem is people not using it correctly." Isn't that the problem with pretty much everything?
Dayner worries that people using the Vaportini, which consists of a glass globe suspended on a metal ring over a pint glass containing a tea light, may be more prone to lose track of how much they've consumed and therefore more likely to over-imbibe. The company that sells the Vaportini argues that, to the contrary, the quick onset of psychoactive effects when alcohol is inhaled means people can more easily stop when they achieve the desired level of intoxication. It says inhaling the alcohol in an ounce of liquor takes 20 to 40 minutes, "depending on how aggressively a Vaportini is consumed."
Dayner also worries that if people consume too much alcohol through inhalation, they will absorb it all rather than vomiting some of it back up, which raises the risk of dying from acute poisoning. Yet Carino reports that "spokespersons for CentraState and Monmouth Medical Center said they have not seen any cases related to vaportinis, AWOL or the smoking of alcohol." Judging from a Nexis search covering the period since AWOL became available in the United States, deaths from alcohol inhalation are rare, if not nonexistent. "It hasn't been a big issue here," Dayner concedes, "but it could very easily be a type of thing where young people have a problem with it."
And did you know that "smoking alcohol is worse than butt-chugging"? I guess that depends on what you mean by "worse." Although it has not exactly taken the country by storm, alcohol inhalation is clearly more popular than butt-chugging or vodka-soaked tampons, possibly because it does not involve absorbing alcohol through entirely new orifices.
The Vaportini does not seem to be covered by those state laws banning AWOL. Under California's law, which seems to be typical, an "alcohol vaporizing device" is defined as "any device, machine, or process that mixes spirits, liquor, or other alcohol product with pure oxygen or other gas to produce a vaporized product for the purpose of consumption by inhalation." Since the Vaportini merely heats liquor, releasing a vapor than can be inhaled through a straw, it does not fit that definition. Will legislators close this alarming loophole before it's too late?
[Thanks to Felix for the Asbury Park Press link.]