Politicians move to ban alcohol without liquid devices

by Beacon Staff • February 8, 2006

Instead of ordering calorie-laden beverages, people would be able to inhale pure alcohol mixed with oxygen using the Alcohol Without Liquid vaporizer machine (AWOL), a device that resembles an asthma inhaler.,State legislatures across the country, including Massachusetts, are rallying against a new product that would allow bar hoppers and partygoers to consume alcohol without taking a sip.

Instead of ordering calorie-laden beverages, people would be able to inhale pure alcohol mixed with oxygen using the Alcohol Without Liquid vaporizer machine (AWOL), a device that resembles an asthma inhaler.

According to a Web site put out by Spirit Partners, Inc., a North Carolina company that holds the nation's only license to market AWOL machines, an individual can get the equivalent of half a shot during a twenty-minute inhalation period. The Web site also warns that only two such sittings are recommended in a 24-hour period.

As with liquid alcohol, the amount a patron could consume in one sitting would ultimately be up to the discretion of the bartender.

The Web site claims that AWOL allows the patron to inhale oxygen mixed with alcohol, which causes mild euphoria. The site also boasts the product's ability to allow a consumer to become inebriated without feeling the less-pleasant side effects.

"If you hate hangovers, you'll love this," one testimonial proclaims, explaining that AWOL users do not become as dehydrated as drinkers do. The presence of oxygen is also thought to cure hangovers.

According to the Web site, AWOL originated in the United Kingdom and was first introduced in the United States in August 2004. It has only recently gained attention, as lawmakers have growing concern over the dangers of such a novelty.

House Representative John F. Quinn (D-Dartmouth) and Senator Mark C. Montigny (D-Dartmouth) co-authored the Massachusetts bill that would prohibit the sale of AWOL in bars.

Quinn said that at least 17 other states, including Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire, are considering similar legislation, while five Midwestern states have already passed such laws.

While Quinn admits that area bars have not indicated an interest in the product, he feels Massachusetts must be "pre-emptive" in protecting its citizens, particularly because of the high concentration of college students throughout much of the state.

"All too often, legislative bodies are criticized for being reactive rather than proactive," Quinn said.

The bill has already passed in the Joint Consumer Protection and Professional Licensing Committee, and according to Quinn, the Massachusetts' Senate and House hearings on the matter are not yet scheduled but should occur in the near future.

"[The device] really encourages reckless and abusive consumption of alcohol," Quinn said. "There are also the medical issues. The absorption rate [of AWOL] is up to ten times quicker." He added that there are also concerns of what the product could do to the brain.

Dr. Asaf Bitton, chief resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital, also voiced concerns about the machines.

"AWOL is generally frowned upon within the health profession, because it can cause such a rapid and large increase in blood alcohol levels," Bitton said.

However, he also said he does not have any experience with the devices or their effects, due to the fact that AWOL has not been seen in any large scale in Boston.

Kevin Morse, spokesperson for Spirit Partners Inc., did not return several phone calls for comment.

Kristy Bosse, manager of Sweetwater Caf