Apr 202005
Authors: James Baetke

Colorado legislators have sent a bill banning a new device called alcohol without liquid, or AWOL, to the governor hoping he will sign it into law before the device lands in local bars or in Colorado residents' hands.

AWOL manufacturers promise their product to be the "ultimate party toy," delivering the same alcohol high as a glass of beer or shot of whiskey and giving less of a hangover, according to a distributor's Web site at www.awolmachine.com. The device resembles an asthma inhaler, and it vaporizes alcohol and mixes it with oxygen. The combination is then inhaled.

It is gaining popularity in clubs along the East Coast and in Arizona, according to the Web site. Dominic Simler, who first introduced the device into an English pub in 2004, was unable to be reached.

While the device promises to be an "ultimate party toy," it has legislators such as Rep. Betty Boyd, D-Dist. 26, worried about its potential dangers. Boyd hopes the bill banning the device will meet Gov. Bill Owens' approval.

"It is on the way to the governor, but it takes some time to be enrolled," said Boyd, a bill co-sponsor.

Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, who endorsed the bill, said he wants the device out of Colorado because it is a danger to users and can lead to alcohol-related problems, including alcohol poisoning.

Hagedorn has also publicly expressed, in the Senate, his concern about the device landing on college campuses, especially in fraternities.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Colorado Restaurant Association and Colorado Police Protective Association also back the bill.

Lynn Bronikowski, spokeswoman for the Colorado Restaurant Association, said the association is against the device because it is "potentially dangerous to consumers."

"We are concerned that such a device will increase the amount of alcohol that can be consumed safely," Bronikowski said.

The restaurant association represents 10,000 restaurants, which equals a $1 billion restaurant industry in Colorado.

The Colorado Senate has already passed Senate Bill 34, which would call for the banning of the device and make it a class-2 misdemeanor if used. The bill would also allow local authorities to suspend or revoke the liquor licenses of establishments that carry the device.

"It made a lot of sense to circumvent an issue that is meant for a quick high," Boyd said.

Boyd said there is too little known about the device to ensure consumers' safety. She is worried that if this bill does not pass, bars and liquor establishments are going to use AWOL as a gimmick to bring in customers.

Despite warnings on the device to count the number of hits a consumer takes, Boyd said it is unlikely people will follow these instructions. She is also worried the machine will easily spread bacteria.

However, Boyd said that if the AWOL machine is shown to be safe, she will exercise the idea to make it legal to use.

"There are too many red flags. I think (AWOL) is pretty unknown at this point," Boyd said.

Cindy Parmeter, spokeswomen for the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, said CDHE knows about the devicebut is unsure if it has been used in Colorado yet.

"Looking at the device, (everyone here) has no way of knowing how many are in the state, if any," Parmeter said.

Trooper Don Moseman, spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol said it's too early to tell if AWOL is prevalent in Colorado.

"We have not dealt with it yet in Colorado," Moseman said.

AWOL's makers assert the device is legal because the two substances used are alcohol and oxygen, two materials that are not illegal. On the distributor's Web site, it states that by using AWOL, hangovers will be a thing of the past because the hand-held inhaler bypasses the stomach and lungs. The product's makers are also advertising the device as a "dieter's dream," because the vaporizer is low in carbohydrates.

Experts quoted in British media have said the device is a threat because the alcohol is too quickly absorbed into blood vessels in the lungs and nose.

Fort Collins Police Services spokeswoman Rita Davis said local police are aware of the device.

"We are familiar with AWOL devices, although I do not believe we have had any incidents involving them so far," Davis said.

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