When new ideas are not so good - Albuquerque Journal

When new ideas are not so good

Q: All of our vices are coming in new forms: solid alcohol and caffeine, liquid nicotine! What’s the world coming to, and what are the effects on our children?

A: I sometimes wonder at the perfidy of adults who will make a profit from selling pornography on the Internet, Grand Theft Auto for the X-box, fried double-bacon cheeseburgers at the State Fair, and addictive substances to our children.

I’ve been listening to the disingenuous videos of Mark Phillips, the inventor of Palcohol (solid, very portable alcohol), for example: “I just want to be able to enjoy a margarita on a hiking or backpacking trip …”

The idea is that the alcohol – yes, real ethanol as is found in real margaritas, beer and other cocktails – is encapsulated in little beads, and then released: “just add water.” Mr. Phillips assures us that it would be very unpleasant to snort the Palcohol powder, though one wonders how much he’s tried doing that. He says that it takes a lot of Palcohol powder to get the equivalent of a drink’s worth of alcohol, so it’s a perfectly safe and enjoyable form of our most venerable, most used and most abused mind-altering substance. Mr. Phillips doesn’t think slipping Palcohol in someone’s drink is very likely – no alcohol-induced date rape (so he says). The packets of powder are much too large, he says, to sneak into a prom or graduation party. And it seems that he’s also selling a bridge linking Manhattan with Brooklyn.

It’s wonderful that American teenagers are smoking less tobacco than they did a decade or two ago. Smoking is an addiction that a whole industry promotes! There are, however, at least two gray linings of that silver cloud: kids are “vaping” and using hookahs, and kids and maybe their parents think both are cool and safe. Whether the total number of kids using nicotine and tobacco products has decreased or not is difficult to determine; it is not hard to tell that nicotine is addictive, in whatever form it is used.

In addition, the liquid form of nicotine is highly concentrated and often flavored with scents and tastes attractive to young children. So far, no regulation states that refills for e-cigarettes, which contain highly concentrated nicotine solutions, be in child-resistant containers. Steven Seifert, M.D., medical director of the New Mexico Poison Center, tells me that there haven’t been any nicotine-related deaths in toddlers in this state – yet.

Dr. Seifert goes on to point out that using an e-cigarette avoids the 7000 chemicals in cigarette smoke including poisonous gases, toxic metals, and 70 cancer-causing compounds (find the list at www.cdc.gov/tobacco/). The chemical that remains, nicotine, is toxic itself and highly addictive – more so than almost any other substance. “We’re not sure yet whether e-cigarettes are a good thing or a bad one,” he points out: will they help smokers quit, or will they cause more young people to become addicted?

A majority of American adults drink coffee – many of us say that our day doesn’t start right without it. The compound contained in coffee that kick-starts our mornings is caffeine, of course. Now there’s a new form of caffeine available, probably the most dangerous of the new forms of our favorite drugs. Powdered caffeine is available for purchase on the Internet for $35 per kilogram, free shipping if you buy two. An equivalent amount of caffeine at Starbucks would be contained in 37.2 gallons of brewed coffee, and would cost $489 if you buy your very strong coffee in the 20-oz. venti containers. What an incredible bargain – a 92% savings, if all you cared about was the price per milligram of caffeine!

“Why would anyone buy powdered caffeine?” I asked Dr. Seifert.

“Because it’s cheap,” he said, “people can make their own caffeinated drinks at a very low price.” The website where I found the $35/kg price has a disclaimer you have to agree to: “Accurate measurement of caffeine powder is critical to health and safety and may be performed with a digital gram weight scale precise to 0.01 grams (10 mg) or better.” In other words, don’t just get out your set of baking teaspoons, since 1/8 of a teaspoon of pure caffeine contains the upper limit recommended for an adult for a day. And if a child were to get into the caffeine powder, not only would his mind and heart race and his blood pressure climb, but he might also have seizures or die, as an Ohio teen did about one year ago. He probably wasn’t using a digital gram weight scale …

Some morals are hidden in these stories: 1) Adults aren’t always looking out for the best interests of kids; 2) Not all new products are an advance, and 3) Your friends at the New Mexico Poison Center can help, 24/7 and they do. In contrast to my approach to most kinds of medical problems, where I find the latest medical literature to help me make good decisions, I don’t do my own research on possible poisoning and other drug-related questions. I call the Poison Center, 1-800-222-1222, since I know they will have the latest information and be able to interpret it better than I can. I recommend you do the same: post the number near your landline and install it on your cell phone.

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