ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Public Safety this week warned liquor license holders not to purchase alcohol vaping machines, which are illegal in Minnesota, after one was confiscated from a Dakota County bar.
At a news conference held Wednesday, Oct. 30, department officials said that the device is the first to be seized under a state law that has been in effect since 2006. Consequences for breaking the law can range from civil fines to criminal charges.
Reminders about the devices' illegality were mailed to liquor license holders this week as state and U.S. lawmakers alike weigh whether to limit or ban the sale of electronic cigarettes, which are commonly used to vaporize and inhale liquid nicotine products. On Monday, Oct. 28, Democrats in the Minnesota House of Representatives proposed banning the online sale of nicotine vaping devices as part of a package aimed at curbing their use.
According to the state Department of Health, three Minnesotans have already died from vaping-related lung diseases and 84 others sustained injuries associated with vaping. As for the effects of vaping alcohol, Minnesota Poison Control System Dr. Ann Arens said Wednesday that they are still unknown.
"We have no data to inform the use of this type of product," Arens told reporters.
But, she cautioned, "our lungs are not designed ... to be exposed to chemicals or poisons such as alcohol."
Curt Woldengen, who purchased the now-confiscated machine for his south of the metro-area Hampton, Minn. bar, said Wednesday that he bought it after hearing from a friend that they were becoming popular in Wisconsin.
"Unfortunately, I didn't do my homework," he said.
Not knowing that the machine was illegal, Woldengen told Forum News Service that he began to offer use of it in late July until it was taken by the authorities several weeks later. Special Agent Terry Kelley, of the DPS Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, said Wednesday that the investigation and eventual confiscation of the device was kicked off by an anonymous tipster.
As a result of the investigation, Woldengen was fined $1,000. The device, which is sold by online retailer Vapshot, costs about $2,000 to buy.
The device itself takes up no more room than the standard home coffee maker, though with a bright, white finish looks much sleeker. It sports a hose running out of its back side that attaches to a bottle of liquor, and a nozzle on top that according to its product page can fill a balloon "with a fine mist containing micro-droplets of liquid alcohol."
Users then inhale from the balloon to ingest the alcohol. Vapshot claims on its website that this process "does not involve the vaporization of the alcohol" and that its products may make for a "potentially safer way to enjoy alcohol."
But because alcohol inhalation is poorly studied, Arnes said that it can't be easily compared to taking a shot or having a beer. The extent to which it can be accurately measured by a breathalyzer test, she said, is similarly unclear.
Also unclear, she said, is how the inhalation of artificial flavors and dyes found in some alcohol brands effect the lungs and body.
"Another thing to remember," she added, "is these sort of products are very attractive to our younger users."