Don’t breathe your bourbon, Ky. officials warn
State lawmakers want to ban liquor vaporizers, call devices dangerous
The Alcohol Without Liquid device, or AWOL, resembles an asthma inhaler and can be used for just about any kind of alcohol, including wine, vodka, even martinis.
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentuckians sip their bourbon, and have also been known to cook with it. But inhale it?
The very idea of bypassing the taste buds seems sacrilegious in a state that claims to produce the world’s best bourbon, which generates more than $1 billion a year in sales.
State officials in the land of Old Grand-Dad, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey are pushing to ban a device that vaporizes liquor and allows people to inhale the intoxicating fumes for a quick high without the burn of hard liquor.
Teresa Barton, head of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said banning alcohol vaporizers is a matter of public safety, not preserving the state’s sipping whiskey industry. She said such devices could become “a real deadly trap” because they have “no purpose other than to get you drunk.”
So far, 17 states have banned them, including California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and several others are considering doing so, said Sherry Green, executive director of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws. Tennessee, the home of Jack Daniels, already prohibits the vaporizers.
“When you inhale alcohol right into the lung tissue, that gets drawn right into the blood supply immediately, so it’s a very rapid onset of the intoxicating effect, and so has obviously very high abuse potential,” said Robert Walker, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky Center on Drug and Alcohol Research.
Walker said alcohol vaporizers bypass altogether the tactile pleasures of drinking wine with a fine meal or a cold beer with a pizza: “You’re going strictly to the intoxicating effect of alcohol.”
Dangerous legal loophole
In addition, Green warned that the devices could provide a dangerous legal loophole for teenagers in states where current law forbids only “underage drinking,” not “underage inhaling.”
Kevin Morse, president of Spirit Partners Inc. in Greensboro, N.C., which markets the Alcohol Without Liquid, or AWOL, devices, said they are harmless.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a new way for adults to enjoy alcohol in a different manner,” said Morse, who sells single-user devices over the Internet for $299 each or multi-user devices for $2,500 each.
The devices, which resemble asthma inhalers, can be used for just about any kind of alcohol, including wine, vodka, even martinis.
Morse said attempts to ban the devices have been great for business. “We haven’t spent the first dime on advertising,” he said. “When these legislators start repeating these rumors, then we start selling them like crazy.”
Neither the liquor industry nor anti-drinking groups take credit for the bans on the devices.
“Legislators are basically banning this on their own,” said Amy George, spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. George said MADD has not taken an official position on the issue in any of the states that instituted bans because, she said, not enough research has been done to show that they are necessary.
One of the world’s largest distributors of alcoholic beverages, London-based Diageo, with brands including Smirnoff and Crown Royal, has pushed for the bans, saying the vaporizers “could encourage alcohol abuse and drunk driving.”
Ed O’Daniel, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, said he, too, supports a prohibition on the devices. A ban died in a state Senate committee in February, but O’Daniel said he believes it will pass in the next session.
Greg Brooks, a private investigator from North Carolina, said he tried the AWOL device in a New York bar a couple of years ago.
“You get a mild euphoria,” he said. “It’s like having one drink, maybe. It dissipates quickly. If you like getting drunk or getting a real heavy buzz, this isn’t the thing for you.”
© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.