Vice Squad
Saturday, August 21, 2004
Alcohol inhaling machine is here

The Bloomington paper (registration required) printed an AP report that an alcohol inhaling machine went on display at the Trust bar in Manhattan on Friday, August 20. It’s called Alcohol Without Liquid (AWOL?) vaporizer. It mixes alcohol with pressurized oxygen to get you high. According to its makers, it takes about 20 minutes to breathe in one shot. The article says that it is “giving drinkers the effect of alcohol without the drunkenness, or hangover.” Now, I understand why somebody wouldn’t want to have hangover. I can even understand the desire to drink good wine or cognac and not get drunk. But why would I want to inhale alcohol if I don’t get tipsy? More generally, what is “the effect of alcohol without the drunkenness, or hangover”, i.e., what is left? That issue aside, the machine has provoked strong negative reaction from the Democratic state Sen. Carl Kruger who is planning to introduce legislation to ban the machine, calling it a “new form of pipe smoking” and claiming that it could encourage underage drinking and drunk driving. (It’s unclear to me how somebody could engage in drunk driving if the inhaling is supposed not to result in “drunkenness.”) This is the familiar to economists story about how making a dangerous activity somewhat less dangerous creates incentives to engage in the activity more, and might even increase the total amount of danger. (See Sam Peltzman, 1975, “The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation,” Journal of Political Economy, v. 83, no. 4: 677-725; see also an earlier Vice Squad post related to light cigarettes.)
[Update: Vice Squad has been tracking the diffusion of the alcohol inhaler. -- JL]

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