Commentary: Cup of coffee, not inhaler, is the perfect caffeine delivery system

The Rock Hill HeraldMarch 2, 2012 

Smoking can be hazardous — even if you're just puffing away on an electronic cigarette.

A Florida man was hospitalized last week when his electronic cigarette blew up in his face. The exploding cigarette knocked out his front teeth, took out a chunk of his tongue and, adding insult to injury, set his house on fire.

These fake cigarettes are billed as a safer alternative to the real thing (as long as they don't explode in your mouth) with fewer carcinogens. The rigid plastic device includes a small battery and a cartridge. When the "smoker" inhales, the battery generates an electric charge, which, in turn, produces a nicotine-filled mist from the cartridge.

The mist allegedly provides the taste and sensation of smoking without the smoke. I haven't tried one, but I doubt it measures up to the pleasure of real tobacco (which, by the way, I forsook more than 20 years ago).

The electronic cigarette is little more than a nicotine delivery system for addicts. Nothing very romantic about that.

Along the same line, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced recently that it is investigating the safety of inhalable caffeine. The so-called Aeroshot, which went on the market late last month in Massachusetts and New York for $2.99, is the size of a lipstick canister.

Consumers put one end of the canister in their mouths and breathe in, releasing a fine powder that dissolves instantly. Each canister contains 100 milligrams of caffeine powder, the equivalent of a large cup of coffee, plus some B vitamins.

Again, this is little more than a drug delivery system. My question would be, why not drink a cup of coffee instead?

One of the greatest pleasures in life is a steaming cup of coffee in the morning. One of the next greatest pleasures is the second cup.

Who would choose to inhale their caffeine instead?

I associate inhalers with unpleasant things, like asthma. If you're going to create inhalers as substitutes for other things, such as coffee, why not as substitutes for things we don't like to do? Why not inhalable broccoli?

Researchers have produced an inhalable flu vaccine. Maybe someone will come up with an inhalable prep for a colonoscopy.

If entrepreneurs are looking for a way to market inhalers that aren't simply substitutes for things we don't like, how about inhalable "experiences"? Say, inhalers that give us a foggy day in London town, with essences of wet cobblestone streets, frying fish and chips and the exhaust of a double-decker bus.

I can envision inhalers that offer a day at the beach: a hint of salt water, suntan lotion, the essence of a seared hotdog and the slight tang of a dead fish.

Or an inhaler could take us on a trip to China, with the aroma of freshly steamed buns, produce from the open market and the discharge of hundreds of small, inefficient, coal-powered energy plants.

This might be the most marketable idea of all: inhalable air. The air could be harvested in the Antarctic where pollutants are relatively scarce.

Air can come in handy in a number of situations. Stuck next to a large, heavily perspiring person on the plane? Pull out your inhaler.

Visiting the aunt with too many cats? Found out what that greenish stuff in the crisper was? Son took off his sneakers?

Pull out your inhaler!

Like real coffee, I usually prefer real air, even if it's not from the Antarctic. Breathing normal air can lead to an appreciation of special air, such as mountain air or air from a helium-filled balloon.

Still, if you can sell people inhalable caffeine, you probably can package anything in an inhaler. Along with the trip to China, you could offer a side trip to Mongolia.

Think yaks.

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