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Lighter liquor

Lighter liquor

Source: Denton RC

By Melissa Wylie

04 April 2015

Instead of simply tossing back shots, Fry Street-area bar patrons can now inhale clouds of flavored alcohol for a quick, euphoric buzz.

Rick Reid, owner of The Garage, purchased a commercial alcohol vaporizing machine for his bar a few weeks ago from Austin-based company Vapshot.

For $4, customers can get a peach- or banana-flavored shot of liquor served in vapor form. Inhaling the vapor sends the alcohol directly to the bloodstream, instantly creating a slight feeling of intoxication.

“I don’t think it substitutes having a beer or a cocktail, but it’s something that’s unusual and different,” Reid said.

Nearby bar Public House also installed a Vapshot machine recently. Manager Sean O’Brien said the bar leases it on a month-to-month basis.

The two bars have brought an international trend to Denton, but alcohol vaping is relatively unfamiliar territory in the U.S., especially when it comes to regulation and research of long-term health effects.

“We’re trying to be extremely careful,” Reid said. “We don’t know what it’s going to do, so we’re siding with caution.”

The Vapshot machine works like an air compressor. The bartender uses a nozzle to spray compressed liquor into a clear plastic bottle through a pinhole valve in the cap, an action similar to airing up a basketball.

The bartender then twists off the cap, making a popping noise, and the change in the bottle’s air pressure instantly creates white vapor. The customer sucks in the vapor through a straw, careful to not exhale.

The alcohol enters the lungs, going straight to the bloodstream and brain without losing potency.

According to the creators of Vapshot, the process reduces the amount of alcohol to 1/60th of the normal amount. They say the effects of one shot lasts only about 15 minutes before the alcohol is untraceable in the bloodstream.

“It’s more euphoric than anything else,” Reid said.

The loud pop generates curiosity in the bar, but some customers are slightly disappointed when they realize the brevity of the buzz, said Ryan Ingram, general manager at The Garage.

“I think some people are expecting to have two and be completely intoxicated, and it’s not like that,” Ingram said. “It affects you completely differently than consuming alcohol the traditional way.”

Since those effects are still unclear, Reid said the vapor shots are served with care.

Customers are limited to two shots per half hour, and the bar stops selling them at 1 a.m. One bartender is assigned to run the machine each night so the business can keep track of what’s been served.

Brian Bond of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said there is no protocol yet for assessing alcohol vaporization, but it is considered legal to sell vapor shots in bars.

“Sometimes technology moves faster than laws can keep up with,” he said.

The Vapshot machine was approved for commercial use in Austin, where it was first sold, with a lot of faith put into the responsibility of its creators and bar owners, Bond said.

“There’s potential for abuse with everything,” he said. “We’re hoping for responsible use.”

Celia Lo, chairwoman of the sociology and social work department at Texas Woman’s University, researches social implications of alcohol and other substances.

By selling vapor shots, Lo said, the bars are legitimizing a product that has not been thoroughly researched.

“Whatever you can sell in the store, people think it’s not so bad for you,” she said. “But the problem is we don’t really know the facts.”

Alcohol vaporizers started popping up in the U.S. about 10 years ago but were met with uncertainty.

The Alcohol Without Limits, or AWOL, device resembling an asthma inhaler eventually was banned in more than 20 states as a safety precaution, but no concrete evidence had proved the need for prohibition.

Years later, available information on the health effects of inhaling alcohol remains minimal, though Vapshot cites independent lab tests on its website to verify product safety.

Lo said she is left with questions about overconsuming and ridding the body of alcohol without the option to vomit.

“A lot of things could happen that you can’t control,” she said.

University of North Texas professor James Quinn studies addictions, social work and rehabilitation.

Based on his area of research, Quinn said the intensified high felt in the brain from sending alcohol straight to the bloodstream could accelerate any addictive or alcoholic tendencies.

O’Brien said there’s no need for so much concern. He said he doesn’t feel a strong effect from vapor shots and hasn’t seen much customer interest.

“It doesn’t sell that well, to be completely honest,” he said.

Reid said the Vapshot’s novelty might wear off, but alcohol vaporization could revolutionize bar culture if customers continue to create demand like they do at The Garage.

“Time will tell,” he said.