Preventing the Worst-Case Scenario

The Chevy Chaser, Lexington
By Susan Westrom

Lexington, KY, 79th District

It seems that every week we learn of a new way for our children to chemically destroy their minds or lose their lives. Recently, reports came out about children inhaling compressed air sold in spray cans used to clean computer keyboards. Tragically, sometimes the consequence is temporary paralysis, severe brain damage, or the worst-case scenario-death. Parents have become alarmed as the incidents of alcohol poisoning are increasing dramatically on our college campuses. It seems that no matter how hard we try, we cannot surround our children with enough protection. The greatest preventive weapon we have is to learn about the latest craze before it is attempted within our own family.

This month, I am going to educate you about a new scourge that I will attempt to keep out of the state of Kentucky-breathable alcohol. Imagine going to a bar and inhaling alcohol instead of drinking it. The latest rage in Florida is the AWOL, or alcohol without liquid vaporizer, also known as breathable alcohol. The vaporizer turns alcohol into a mist. This technique was adapted from oxygen machines used for aromatherapy that began showing up in bars in August 2004.

Students are especially attracted to this method of intake because it is snorted into the nose or inhaled through the mouth. The high can be felt much more quickly as the alcohol goes directly into the brain, bypassing the stomach and intestines. Consumers are able to inhale alcohol, get drunk, and still be able to pass a police breathalyzer test as alcohol levels in the blood remain very low. Calorie intake is reduced, and students report that this method of intake provides all the pleasure of drinking without absorbing carbohydrates or feeling the pain the morning after.

Marketing claims for these devices are disturbing and deceptive as they treat alcohol intake as having no consequences. Promoters in bars book individual devices as the “ultimate party toy” and charge about $10 a shot. It is often passed around in a group. They report “it is designed to allow people to enjoy the effects of alcohol mixed with oxygen because it promotes a sense of well-being and mild euphoria. It is a fun, new, legal way to take alcohol.” It is also identified as a new type of “pipe smoking.” However, I question which pipe they are referring to! Does this sound too good to be true, or does it sound like a parent’s worst nightmare? How wise is it to market a device that has not been tested for the risks and long-term effects?

Either this sounds like a nightmare or I am beginning to show my age! The possible health and safety risks of inhaling alcohol are unknown; however, some researchers believe it will make you very drunk very quickly and will likely increase the risk of direct alcohol damage to the brain. It could also do irreversible damage to nerves, lead to swelling, and possibly increase the incidence of dementia. Inhaling alcohol has the same addictive implications as liquid intake and may damage the mucus membranes in the nasal passages. I do not know of anyone who can afford to destroy any brain cells, and common sense tells me this is one way to do it.

How do we prevent the spread of this practice through our country? First of all, we do all we can to make sure the machines are kept out of Kentucky, and other states will follow suit. I have drafted legislation for the 2006 legislative session to prohibit the sale and use of new alcohol vaporizing machines. At the federal level, legislation has been drafted to ban the use of the AWOL device until a review is done by the Food and Drug Administration. Amazingly, this product falls into a gray area of being a device rather than an alcohol product and up to this point has avoided government oversight.

Sometimes it pays to be proactive. There is no doubt in my mind that if this device is left in the hands of a vulnerable population, we are begging for increased alcohol abuse and binge drinking. At this point, 1,400 students in the United States die in drinking-related incidents each year, and that should be more than we are willing to accept! It is amazing how many groups have stepped forward to promote this legislation, and I need your help as well. Please make your voice heard in Frankfort by calling 800-372-7181 and letting members of the General Assembly know you would like to see the AWOL bill pass before any of us lose our children to the “ultimate party toy.”

While we are in session, watch KET if you have the patience to observe legislative activities. You may reach me by calling 502-564-8100, ext. 826. The invitation to my shadowing program is still open. In Lexington you may reach me at 266-7581. Please feel free to contact me anytime. It is an honor serving you in Frankfort.

Susan Westrom is the State Representative for the 79th District. She can be reached at 1-800-372-7181.
e-mail: [email protected]