Is inhalable alcohol a good idea?
At this time, it is unclear what other states will have to say, if anything, about the device since liquor laws vary from state to state. (Spirit Partners plans to sell franchises in all 50 states.) It is also unclear whether the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would eventually become involved in regulation efforts, should sales from the Web site be significant. A new bill, however, introduced by state Sen. Patricia McGee and others, would ban the "sale, purchase or use of alcohol vaporizing devices" entirely in New York state; McGee argues that AWOL and similar devices "could potentially give rise to increases in alcohol abuse, underage drinking and drunk driving." It is not difficult to imagine lawmakers in other states proposing similar measures.
In other words, AWOL will probably not turn up at trendy lounges any time soon. Ultimately, though, the biggest issue may not be the device itself but the concept of inhaling alcohol in general—an idea that has been publicized by Spirit Partners' media campaign and, unwittingly, by the various agitated responses to it. As Swift told me, if people realize that this is "a good way to get high," they won't need an expensive, commercially made machine. They can make something at home for $5 or $10. The crowd we should probably worry about most, then, is the one that isn't legally allowed to drink alcohol in the first place.
Amanda Schaffer is a science and medical columnist for Slate.
Photograph of AWOL users by Spirit Partners, Inc./Handout/Getty Images.