On the MichNews website, the Reverend Mark H. Creech, who is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, has posted an essay about a potentially insidious new device known as an "AWOL Machine" (pictured at left). Having first heard of it at the annual convention of the American Council on Alcohol Problems (ACAP) in September 2006, Rev. Creech characterizes it as "one of the worst forms of alcohol abuse know to man". Click HERE to read the full essay.
And what makes this such a potential problem? The "AWOL Machine" (in this case, it stands for "Alcohol Without Liquid") is a device combining an oxygen generator with a hand-held vaporizer into which the user pours his favorite alcoholic beverage. The device produces a mist of alcohol inhaled through the mouth, allowing the alcohol to enter the bloodstream through the lungs and traveling straight to the brain. Many medical experts claim the machines produce a quick and intense high off alcohol.
Some have gone so far as to say AWOL is to drinking what smoking crack is to snorting cocaine. Teresa A. Barton, interim executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said the devices have "no purpose other than to get you drunk."
AWOL, invented by British entrepreneur Dominic Simler, was introduced in the United States in 2004 by Greensboro, NC-based Spirit Partners, Inc., who owns the sole rights to marketing the machines in America. However, there is a difference of opinion as to the machine's effects. While Simler confirms that the alcohol vapors produce an instaneous "high", attorney Kevin Morse, who is the president of Spirit Partners, scoffs at that notion. However, it is Simler's contention that is supported in a report by DRAM. Here's an excerpt from the MichNews article describing the alleged effects:
That's confirmed [referring to Simler's findings] in a report by DRAM (Drinking Report for Addiction Medicine) which argues that when a person uses AWOL, the alcohol vapor bypasses the consumer's stomach and liver. The liver's function is to break down harmful substances like alcohol; but with AWOL, the liver doesn't filter the alcohol absorbed through blood vessels in the lungs. DRAM contends "inhaling as a route of administration usually permits psychoactive drugs to cross the blood brain barrier most rapidly compared to other routes of administration. Similarly, the subjective effect of inhaling is that of a more potent drug experience."
When considering what the medical community has to say about AWOL, the health dangers involved are incredibly frightening. Michael Silver, a specialist in pulmonary and critical care at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, examined AWOL in 2005 and discussed its dangers with the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Alcohol is a potentially toxic substance when applied directly to living tissue," he said. Unlike the stomach, "which can take a huge amount of insult, your lungs aren't built for that."
The further danger is that once the alcohol is inside the lungs, the body has no way to quickly force the toxin out. Unlike drinking too many drinks, which may induce vomiting, with AWOL the body can't fight back. In short, "there is no throwing up from the lungs," said Richard Dalby, a professor at the University Of Maryland School Of Pharmacy.
Dalby contends little is known about the effects of alcohol on the lungs and that inhaling such substances could bring bacteria and mold into the lungs and cause anything from food allergies to anaphylactic shock and death.
However, Rev. Creech cites its appeal to youth as the scariest aspect of AWOL. He reminds us that more than a third of young people begin drinking by eighth grade, and five-million high school students binge drink at lease once a month. In addition, he further states that two out of five college students are binge drinkers; approximately 1,700 college students die every year due to an alcohol-related incident.
The portability of the equipment also increases the attraction for youth. The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy also claimed, "It's something that can be passed at parties. It's going to have a certain lure that's going to appeal to children and youth that may not appeal to an adult". Indeed, for many youth in today's party atmosphere, the concept of "huffing" alcohol would be just a new way to get high. The latter statement should be of particular concern to those of us who live in Alaska, since "huffing" of chemicals is not uncommon, particular amongst Alaska Native youth living in Bush villages where there are frequently few other diversions.
And lawmakers are beginning to take notice. Susan K. McComas, a delegate to the Maryland Legislature, and a mother of four boys, has drafted anti-AWOL legislation for her state after finding a flyer advertising the machine on her car while she was parked at a community college. On June 27th, 2007, North Carolina went further, becoming the 22nd state to actually ban AWOL machines when Governor Mike Easley signed a bill that had been unanimously approved by both houses of the state legislature. Their law forbids possession, sales, and use of the devices in the state and provides NO grandfathering protection.
The 22 states banning the devices are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming.
Here are a list of references provided by Rev. Creech:
 Join Together News Summary, "17 States Have Banned Alcohol Inhalers."
 Janelle MacDonald, "Groups Work to Ban Alcohol Device in Kentucky," WAVE-3, November 22, 2006.
 Gizmag electronic magazine, www.gizmag.com/go/2633, Health and Wellbeing.
 "Alcohol Without Liquid: Has Science Gone AWOL?" The DRAM, Drinking Report for Addiction Medicine, Vol.2, Num. 2, March 1, 2006.
 Kathy Boccella and Mario Cattabiana, "A Ban on Breathable Booze?" Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 28, 2006, Page B01.
 Robyn Lamb, "Md. lawmaker seeks to ban sale and use of device ...," Baltimore Daily Record, March 25, 2005
 Statement of Joseph A. Califano, Jr., chairman and president The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University on release of "Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic," Feb. 26, 2002
 Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV, Center for Science in the Public Interest http://www.cspinet.org/booze/CAFST/QuickFacts.pdf
And now, for the other side of the story. Spirit Partners, Inc. maintains a website providing information and purchasing instructions for the AWOL Machines. They claim the ill effects are exaggerated, and, more significantly, that users rarely if ever experience hangovers. Many customers attest this to be the most attractive feature. The company also claims that "overuse" is not possible; the device has a built-in safety feature requring 20 minutes to inhale one vaporizer shot of alcohol (about 1/2 normal liquid shot size). This would preclude a single device being used for "binge drinking", although one could cetainly inhale from multiple devices. Here is the press release from their website, originally published upon securing the exclusive distribution rights within the USA:
Spirit Partners, Inc. Announces United States License to Market AWOL - Alcohol With Out Liquid
NEW YORK - There's a new low-calorie, low-carbohydrate way for adults to consume alcohol in The United States, and you don't even need a glass. It's AWOL, Alcohol With Out Liquid, and for the first time, it is available in The United States after successful debuts in Europe and Asia.
Spirit Partners, Inc. announced that it has acquired the exclusive license to market the AWOL technology in the United States, August 20, 2004, at The Trust Lounge in New York's Meat-Packing District. Spirit Partners will sell at least one AWOL dealership in all 50 states.
AWOL consists of two components: an oxygen generator and a hand-held vaporizer. Tubes from the generator attach to the vaporizer. The user chooses an 80-proof spirit, which is poured into the vaporizer. Oxygen mixes with the alcohol producing a mist which is inhaled through the mouth.
"We are elated to launch AWOL," said Kevin Morse, president of Spirit Partners, Inc. "We are now able to dispel the rumors that have been expressed in some media reports and show that AWOL is simply a fun, new, exciting way for adults to enjoy alcohol in a responsible manner."
Alcohol enters the bloodstream through the lungs rather than the stomach making AWOL low calorie and low carbohydrate. The resulting feeling is the same sense of well being an adult gets from consuming alcohol in the traditional manner, only milder.
Once the alcohol enters the bloodstream, it affects the body in the same way as drinking alcohol. Additionally, the alcohol leaves the body in the same manner as if it had been consumed by drinking.
"One of the ways alcohol leaves the body is through the mouth," Morse said. "Therefore, contrary to reports, the alcohol will definitely register on the Intoxylizer 5000, commonly called the Breathalyzer test which is used by law-enforcement officials to apprehend drivers who are under the influence of alcohol."
When used responsibly, there is no evidence to indicate greater risks from using AWOL than consuming alcohol in the traditional way. AWOL should be used no more than two 20-minute sessions within a 24-hour period.
"We are not aware of any current evidence to suggest that use of the AWOL machine, in accordance with your advice and instructions, poses particular risks to the user over and above the risks that may be posed by consuming an equivalent amount of alcohol in an equivalent time period in a more traditional way," said Judith Hind of England's Department of Health Alcohol Policy Team.
AWOL is intended for patrons of an adult-only facility or people that are at least 21 years old. Patrons should not drive or operate any type of machinery after using AWOL.
AWOL units may be purchased directly from Spirit Partners. However, Morse says the company is currently selling exclusive dealerships in all 50 states.
Spirit Partners, Inc.
Commentary: Should Alaska join the 22 states who've banned this device? Rev. Creech has made an eloquent and persuasive case in favor of a ban, based upon the threat of misuse, particularly by teenagers. Alaska also has a greater-than-normal problem with teenagers and young adults "huffing" chemicals such as gasoline, Pam non-stick coating, and other such substances.
However, Kevin Morse, the owner of Spirit, has made an equally eloquent and persuasive case in the opposite direction. His transparency and candor about the strengths and weaknesses of his product is refreshing. The product itself is designed to minimize binge drinking. The product, and its lawful use by those legally entitled, do not seem to create an additional public nuisance or enforcement burden.
Consequently, the only rationale for banning this product would be to prevent underage intoxication. And why is this necessary? We already have laws available, and they are enforced reasonably well, within the capabilities of an understrength enforcement mechanism. These teens have parents, who are SUPPOSED to be supervising their kids. Of course, parents have been conditioned by the media to be buddies to their kids instead of enforcers, and we're paying the price for it. Which approach will we embrace here - libertarianism, or statism?
This time, the libertarian half prevails. The possibility of underage misuse of this product is not sufficient to justify a ban at this time. It's time we quit penalizing responsible adults for the actual or potential misbehavior of children. Let's put the pressure on parents where it belongs, but then give parents the support and create the flexible society necessary for them to do the job right. Having a cutthroat predatory global economy requiring BOTH parents to work outside the home just to be able to provide necessities doesn't work. The corruptive virus of feminism, which transformed equally (and delightfully) different genders into interchangeable parts and weakened the family's hierarchical structure, must be confronted, combatted, and extirpated. A recent Pew Research Report, discussed on the Vanguard News Network Forum, shows that too many parents are into themselves and not into their kids. One of the better philosophies of child-rearing was expressed in a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner opinion column by a juvenile probation officer, Gwenythe Glisson, on July 1st. She writes:
I’ve heard so many parents say, “I don’t want him/her to hate me or be mad at me.” Oh, please! They are teenagers; if you’re doing your job, they’re going to be mad at you and hate you (superficially, anyway) a good portion of their adolescent lives! Holding a teenager accountable and insisting he or she be responsible doesn’t make a parent “mean.” Ignoring disrespectful or reckless behavior can make a parent a lawyer’s financial dream, however.
I have no objections to deliberative bodies such as the Anchorage Assembly and the Alaska State Legislature forming exploratory committees and taking public testimony on this issue. Let's find out more about this. But before we jump on the prohibitionist bandwagon and outlaw the AWOL Machine, let's make sure we're enforcing our current laws adequately.