A bill that would ban an emerging fad in intoxication — alcohol vaporizers — will be up for discussion in the Missouri Senate within the next week, according to Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Clay County.
Alcohol vaporizers are also often referred to as AWOL, which stands for alcohol without liquid, machines.
Ridgeway said she proposed the legislation after a group of young people in her district brought the issue to her attention.
Youth In Action, the group that initiated the process, are high school students from three counties in the Kansas City area concerned with the culture surrounding substance abuse, particularly involving minors, according to Vicky Ward, the group’s coordinator and prevention and wellness manager for Tri-County Mental Health Services in Kansas City.
Youth In Action travels to national conferences and talks with other students about substance abuse issues.
“They began to explore and research (the use of AWOL machines) and certainly the health risks that are involved with it,” Ward said. “So that became, three years ago, a priority issue for them.”
A similar bill involving the banning of vaporizers was introduced in the Senate last year, but didn’t get out of committee.
“That first year I testified for it, there was no opposition,” Ward said. “I think it was a matter of they can only send so many out of committee and this wasn’t the priority for them.”
Even though there is not a plethora of documented issues directly naming to the AWOL machines, Ward said she believes it is because those incidents go without recognition in incident reports.
“It’s probably going to come across as an alcohol poisoning, and not ever mention the vehicle from which the alcohol entered the system,” Ward said.
AWOL machines operate by pouring any liquor of choice into a chamber in the machine. Once the machine is turned on, oxygen is infused, producing a mist. The user then inhales the mist to consume the alcohol. This inhalation practice can have devastating health effects, according to Ward.
“What happens when you use the AWOL, and you simply inhale the vaporized alcohol with the oxygen, it bypasses your natural filtering organs, straight to the bloodstream and the brain,” Ward said. “So, it doesn’t take a biologist to figure out that that can’t possibly be good for you.”
The popularity of vaporizers among youth is easy to understand as the machines are marketed as a calorie- and hangover-free method to get intoxicated quickly, but the perks are largely false according to Ward.
“They’re trying to capitalize, obviously, on kids who are concerned about not gaining weight at the same time,” Ward said. “And hangovers are caused by the effects of ethanol on the body and a fairly toxic substance called ethaldehyde. While some of this may be left behind during AWOL’s vaporization process, many other factors that contribute to hangovers would still occur whether ingested or inhaled.”
The use of vaporizers has garnered national attention and awareness in recent years according to Alicia Ozenberger, project director for Missouri’s Youth/Adult Alliance.
Ozenburger said 22 states, most of them in the Midwest, have already banned vaporizers. In Missouri, Ozenberger said the presence of vaporizers has begun to make its mark.
MU Police Capt. Brian Weimer said he was unaware of any AWOL use at MU.
Despite the low profile of vaporizers at present, Ridgeway is convinced that legislation is a necessary method of prevention.
“As far as I’ve heard, they are minimally used at this point,” Ridgeway said. “But we’re just on the beginning wave of the public learning about these machines. So before it becomes an epidemic, we want to stop it in it’s tracks.”