English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

Why drink this when you can inhale it?

In our society people tend to stay up later and sleep less than in the past.  As historians have noted, part of this is due to electricity. Of course, there are other factors that have caused people to sleep even less these days. One likely factor is the increase in work (at least for Americans-though we are often cast as lazy, we work more than other Westerners and take less vacation time). Children also are apparently sleeping less, perhaps due to the impact of electronic gadgets and the internet.

Because of the lack of sleep, it is hardly a shock that people have been increasingly turning to energy drinks. While coffee has been around for a long time, recent years have seen the proliferation of high energy drinks. Some of these were combined with alcohol, thus allowing sleepy folks to party all night (and drink themselves into the hospital). Apparently consuming a drink now takes too much time and a new product, AeroShot, is available.

AeroShot is more or less a small plastic tube loaded with caffeine powder. The user inhales it and gets the equivalent of a large cup of coffee in one huff, nicely avoiding all that tedious drinking. Currently it is available in the US and France.

In the United States  the AeroShot was able to bypass FDA testing because it was classified as a dietary supplement. Some critics see this as a dangerous loophole that allows products to get on the market without testing. Others see it as a legitimate category that allows companies to get products on the market without onerous government testing.

In the light of Four Loko (or “blackout in a can” as people called it) it is hardly surprising that Senator Schumer pushed the FDA to review the product. His concern is that kids will abuse the product by taking hit after hit while partying. As might be imagined, this raises the usual moral concerns about testing and limiting products.

On the one hand, the state does have a legitimate moral role in testing products so as to protect citizens from harm. After all, protecting citizens from harm is one of the basic functions of the state-whether that harm comes from foreign invaders, domestic criminals or dangerous products.

If AeroShot does present a health risk, then it would seem to be morally correct for the state to take action, based on the state’s obligation to protect citizens. Naturally, a utilitarian argument can also be made that the state should act in this way to protect the citizens so as to avoid said harms.

On the other hand, caffeine is already an established and accepted (legally and morally) product. As such, concerns about AeroShot’s ingredient would thus seem to also extend to all forms of caffeine. Thus, if it is morally acceptable for people to have access to coffee, then the same would seem to hold true of AeroShot. After all, if the kids want to stay up all night partying, they can legally buy all the coffee they might care to consume and this would seem to make any attempts to limit AeroShots pointless.

One reply is, of course, that the AeroShot makes it easy to rapidly dose oneself with caffeine. As noted above, a quick huff of AeroShot is like drinking a large cup of coffee. In the case of a large cup of coffee, the time to consume it will be longer and there is also the rather important fact that the coffee will fill up the drinker’s stomach, thus limiting the dosage.  Thus, the concern about AeroShot is not so much that it contains a lot of caffeine but that it provides a very rapid and efficient means of delivering caffeine.

The obvious counter to this is that kids can go to the grocery store and buy a bottle of caffeine tablets quite legally. These tablets have 200 mg of caffeine (twice that of the dose in the AeroShot) and usually sell for $5-1o per 100 tablets (AeroShot sells for $2.99 a dose). Taking a tablet is far quicker than drinking a cup of coffee and tablets are rather small relative to the volume of a cup of coffee. As such, these tablets would seem to be as dangerous as AeroShot (if not more so, since they are cheaper and have more caffeine per dose). As such, if these tablets are morally and legally acceptable, than AeroShot would seem to be just as acceptable.

One final counter is that perhaps AeroShot poses a special threat because it is “cool.” That is, kids will be more inclined to overuse AeroShots because of the novelty of inhaling caffeine relative to drinking it or taking a tablet. While this is a point of concern, there is the obvious worry that restricting such a product on the basis of its “coolness” rather than its contents would be rather problematic. After all, how would labs test for “coolness” and how would such a standard be established in a principled way?

People more cynical than I might suspect that the “attack” on AeroShot was motivated by some factors other than concern for the youth, such as the desire to get media attention or to get the makers of AeroShot to cough up lobbying money to ensure that they can keep selling their product (that is, a political shakedown). But, of course, I am not that cynical.

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  1. Dennis Sceviour

    “…the state does have a legitimate moral role in testing products so as to protect citizens from harm.”

    I disagree. The state should have no further moral role than testing products to inform citizens of harm. For one reason, the expression is “let the buyer beware”. It is difficult for the state to stop people buying something harmful and stupid. There can be no moral obligation of the state to protect people from themselves.

    For another reason, it would infringe on liberty. Politically speaking, perhaps the best publicity for youth awareness toward peer pressure and substance abuse was Presidential First Lady Nancy Reagan’s simple “Just Say No” campaign. I wonder what Michelle Obama thinks? :?:

  2. “There can be no moral obligation of the state to protect people from themselves.”

    Is that so? Why? If we agree with that statement, shouldn’t we accept that the state representatives should not use force to stop suicide? or What about euthanasia? Should we legalize drugs cocaine , morphine,etc? Because if the state should not stop people from harming themselves, why should it stop the use of ilegal drugs?

    This leads to another questions. Does individual freedom include the rigth to harm yourself? Or harming yourself is a deviant/sick behaviour that we must prevent either forefully or by proper education?

    As with every question around freedom, it is my opinion that is difficult to be dogmatic and we must exert good judgement for every case. However, I believe that the state as a representative of the community has a clear role in protecting its citizens, even from themselves

  3. One interesting idea I came across recently was that the idea of a good night’s sleep is itself fairly modern. In older literature, people talk about their ‘first sleep’, meaning the first couple of hours, as it is common to wake up in the night. The idea of sleeping through for eight hours is not feasible or, biologically speaking, necessary.

  4. jonathan smith

    Here in the UK, motorway petrol (gas) stations have their counters are festooned with energy boost drinks, sprays, bursts and tablets etc. These are obviously intended to offset/prevent tiredness during driving. Given that a major cause of road accidents is tiredness – do I have a duty to ensure that does not happen? That is, a moral duty – whilst driving a vehicle on the public roads. It seems to be a personal moral duty, as the consequence of not ensuring a state of alertness is drowsiness and a subsequent possible harm to self and others. We can introduce a dimension for the state/governmental authorities – namely that they ensure such products are efficacious and harmless.
    One can of course counter with the idea that one should not drive whilst tired and sleep to ensure one is safe to drive. Both of these actions are i personal duties – not a state one. however, the presence of such products merely encourages such self disregard and should be severely proscribed (by the state, for who else could do that?).
    The answer is, I think, that whilst one should not drive whilst tired and merely stimulated artificially to stay awake, there is the fact that driving long distance is boring and lacking in stimulus that the body needs to stay awake.
    There is then a duty to ensure that one does not succumb and stays alert and hence should take such substances in order to stay alert and awake. Hence the state should either proscribe driving over a certain number of hours for all vehicles. They do in the UK for lorries only, via the tachograph recorder on lorries ( a device which records speed/time/ stops and breaks break). This would be difficult to enforce (unless all vehicles were controlled by a satellite device/monitor). So personal responsibility is all that one can ask of the driver, but this requires that substances to enhance alertness are controlled for efficacy/effects, i.e., the state has a role.
    The link between these comments and the caffeine burst is that many of these products contain caffeine. There is also a link to other activities which require alertness, some of which are life threatening, such as pilots, private or airline, or air force pilots ( where there is/has recognition of the role of substances to enhance/ensure alertness in combat missions). There is also a weaker link to other activities, sport, fitness training, and the party/club goer.
    However one can hardly say that where there is danger of harm to self and others (e.g., driving,flying, etc., that the state must legislate, whilst the same products taken in the “danger indifferent” situation are such that the state has no moral duty – this merely encourages cheap compounds/products which might be look a like’s but not act alike.
    In short given the variety of circumstances/situations that products will be taken the state cannot ignore possible harm to self and others in general.

  5. Dennis Sceviour

    @Juan J Miret,
    “If we agree with that statement, shouldn’t we accept that the state representatives should not use force to stop suicide?”


    “Should we legalize drugs, cocaine, morphine, etc?”


    “Because if the state should not stop people from harming themselves, why should it stop the use of illegal drugs?”

    The state should inform the public of the harm due to substance abuse without forcing people. The state can also regulate the manufacture and distribution of drugs.

    “Does individual freedom include the right to harm yourself?”

    Yes. Many young people will say it is their life and they will do what they like with it. Observe the volunteers for dangerous military duty who are content to walk into the proverbial withering fire. Observe athletes who challenge injury and death on a daily basis. The threat of harm does not deter them. Nor should the state try to stop them forcefully. The irony is that the state often tries to benefit from the suicidal tendencies of some people by sending them to war, or to glorify patriotism during athletic events.

    I am taking a free will view here. When I see that people have a choice, then life seems much more precious.

  6. @Dennis
    “If we agree with that statement, shouldn’t we accept that the state representatives should not use force to stop suicide?


    That is a different point of view of the laws of many countries. The term suicide means to take your own life by any means (gun shot, poison, etc). It is different to the alternative of taking part in high risk activities. The intension of th subject is different in both actions. Most countries have laws allowing state representatives to intervine when a person represents a danger to himself or others. Many of these actions migth lead to force hospitalization and treatment.

    The question remains is this a valid role for the state. Is the person in the process of commiting suicide in the rigth frame of mind? Is this a true expression of free will or just sickness? Do we as a community must help others in this difficult mental state?

    My beliefs support the role of the state/community in these cases; I believe they should take action and prevent suicide. My rationale is based on my opinion that suicide represents a temporary sick mental state, which could be overcome with adequate treatment in the majority of the cases.

    I believe I can make similar arguments for other cases. But a major question arises, a question I always ask myself, where are the boundaries between the individual liberties and the society?

    Dennis, thank you for your response and I am looking forward to continue the debate

  7. Dennis Sceviour

    @Juan J Miret,
    Perhaps it would first be prudent in your discussion to distinguish the difference between what is moral for the person, and what is legal for the State. The law never charges for offences against a person, but always for offences against the State. The reasons for this go back to the days of Plato. Having said this, I have no objection that the State should intervene when someone is trying to harm others.

    I am having some difficulty finding an appropriate example of what my position is. I could think of television shows, personal experiences, or perhaps Albert Camus’ book The Myth of Sisyphus, but they do not seem to be exactly appropriate. I could use some help finding a better example.

    For the example, I have chosen the Phaedo where Plato describes the death of Socrates in one of the most moving moments in philosophy. He was condemned to death by the people of the city of Athens by drinking poison. Socrates friends offered to appeal to a lesser sentence of exile, but Socrates declined and drank the poison. The point is that even though Socrates friends properly tried to prevent Socrates from harm, they took no forceful steps to do so. They recognized that Socrates had a free will to choose his own fate.

    As this is a discussion on the philosophical aspects of self-abuse, I will abstain from comments on psychological states and leave that to a different forum. Let us not digress too far from the topic of AreoShot. Mike LaBossiere has given a difficult choice. Does AreoShot reduce the chance that a driver will fall asleep and cause an accident, or does AreoShot increase the probability if irritability and road-rage? I tend to think that substance dependence is worse. This gives the State the privilege of regulating the sale and distribution of AreoShot, but not preventing someone from purchasing or taking it.

  8. I don’t think AeroShot will be a successful product.

  9. Dennis thank you for the interesting comments; they stimulate my thinking. However I find myself with a different point of view.

    First, I do not believe we are disgressing from the Aeroshot question; I actually believe we are addressing the fundamental premises behind the answer to the article’s question.

    Your general principle is “There can be no moral obligation of the state to protect people from themselves.” Your answer to the AeroShot questions, as the answer to similar questions will be based on this principle. Since I have a different point of view on this statement, I believe it is fair to question its validity.

    To the contrary, I believe there is a moral obligation of the state to protect people from themselves, and that the methods the states chooses should respect individual freedom and be commesurable to the circumstances.
    Let’s analize the cases around suicide: A deppressed individual-It is fair for me to bring this example because your statement is absolute and intends to apply to every case- and Socrates. In the case of the deppressed individual, he is suffering from a disease that pushes him to self destruction. In my opinion the state must intervene and help the individual heal. The case of Socrates is different. First, Socrates was not killing himself; the state was killing Socrates. It is the state who condems Socrates to death, and in my opinion the state was infringing in his fundamental liberties. Why did he choose to take poison? I do not know, and should his friends intervene? I do not know, because the believed lesser sentence by the state migth not have been a lesser sentence for Socrates.

    Regarding the differences of what is moral for the person and what is legal for the state; I believe we have different points of view of what is legal for the state. In your opinion “There can be no moral obligation of the state to protect people from themselves.” Therefore, there is no legal obligation from the state. In my opinion: “There is a moral obligation of the state to protect people from themselves, and to achieve this, the state must use methods that respect individual freedom and be commesurable to the circumstances”.

    Our difference leads to different position in the AeroShot case.

    “Mike LaBossiere has given a difficult choice. Does AreoShot reduce the chance that a driver will fall asleep and cause an accident, or does AreoShot increase the probability if irritability and road-rage? I tend to think that substance dependence is worse. This gives the State the privilege of regulating the sale and distribution of AreoShot, but not preventing someone from purchasing or taking it.”

    If AeroShot leads to substance depence, it should be regulated as strongly as morphine or its derivatives. They are use under strict physician supervision to paliate pain. In my opinion, the state has the rigth to ban people from purchasing it.

    The case of AeroShot does not seem so critical, and does not seem to need significant regulation.

    Looking forward to continue the discussion

  10. Dennis Sceviour

    @Juan J Miret,
    “The case of AeroShot does not seem so critical, and does not seem to need significant regulation.”

    I agree. I admit the Phaedo example was not of much use.

  11. Juan,

    I’m unclear In what sense the state has the ‘right’ to regulate the use of morphine and the other opiates in the manner that it does. If the state didn’t criminalise the use of opium and its derivatives, but gave regulated dosages of it free or at cost to every heroin addict who registered then the thriving drug market which finances terrorism would collapse, drug addicts would not be out robbing old ladies and performing sex acts for money down alleyways to pay for drugs sold at an artificially high price, they also wouldn’t be dying from overdoses due to drugs being ‘too pure’ or too adulterated with quinine, and the state wouldn’t be wasting a fortune in taxpayer’s money in terms of police, court, prison and border control expenses.

  12. Jim;

    Thank you for the response. I am glad to see you writing right now for the blog. I have not been visiting the site for a while.

    I do believe that the state has the legal/moral obligation to protect its citizens from harm, and in my opinion that includes harm from others, nature and themselves.

    I believe most people will agree that the state should protect people from the harm of others and/or nature. However, it is usually contested if it has the right or obligation to protect an individual from its own actions.

    Your comments address the way the state is trying to protect individuals from drug abuse, and in your opinion, it is inefficient and it will be better to legitimize drugs, like morphine. Your arguments do not question the right of the state but the way the state is exercising those rights.

    Having said this, your arguments are very valid; they point to the deffiences of the current unending “war on drugs”. But I am not clear if allowing free distribution of certain drugs like morphine derivative heroin would be better. There can be arguments against that, for example opium brought down China after the opium wars. What would be the social consequences of open access to heroin? Will a young person trying to experience different things or in an emotional turmoil end up in the chains of physical and psychological dependence? What wouldbe the cost to society of such dependence?

    Certainly, the way the states deal with drug abuse is not very efficient; despite considerable efforts it is not under control. But is legalizing drugs the solution? Are there any studies pointing to the benefits of this strategy? Or this is just speculation?

    Jim I welcome your thougths, and I am glad I am back reading the blog

  13. Jim;

    An addition to my previous post.

    In fact the american state does something similar for people with morphine addiction. As part of their treatment tthey are given a morphine analog that produices less dependence, and they work through a protocol. This process requieres stric medical control, and people do not adhere completely to the rules of the game.

  14. Hi Juan,

    It’s good to see you back. Your contributions were always productive and interesting.

    I don’t see what sense it makes to say the state has a legal obligation to protect people from knowingly harming themselves. There is no sense in which any state I know of has a legal obligation to prevent people from harming themselves generally – there are no international laws or constitutions that oblige them to do so as far as I know.

    As far as ‘moral obligation’ goes, you have certain feelings about what you’d prefer the state to do, and what type of society you’d like to live in, and that’s all there really is to it. Bringing in the word ‘moral’ and talking of ‘obligation’ really seems to do little more than underline how deeply you feel about it. Like everybody else – bar some congenital psychopaths – evolution has gifted you with a sense of ‘moral’ right and wrong. Subjectively this is distinct from other types of preference but ultimately preference is all it is. You’d prefer the state to stop people from harming themselves and others would prefer that they didn’t. People feel strongly about such things but there is no ‘moral fact’ about the matter out there to discover. The state has no moral obligation to prevent self-harm and no moral obligation not to because there is no such thing as ‘moral obligation’.

    As far as my own preferences go, of course I don’t want heroin sold at corner shops and I’d prefer it if nobody ever abused opiates. But I don’t want the type of state that could realistically prevent that and I don’t want a state that fruitlessly tries to do so and only increases suffering in the meantime. What I would prefer is for the state to simply give determined heroin addicts opiates for as long as they want them. I’d also prefer the government to put serious resources into assisting heroin addicts who genuinely want to stop abusing opiates and stop wasting time and money on mandatory treatment programs that don’t work. I’m also in favour of giving financial incentives to drug addicts to get sterilised.

    The US is heavily sold on ‘the war on drugs’ for all sorts of reasons, there’s no prospect of them changing their position this and they work very hard to stop other countries from trying what I suggest. The Swiss have brought this in, against great international pressure, and you will have access to the medical and sociological journals that will talk about the outcomes of it which I don’t. But I think everyone who has looked at this in a serious way has concluded that the US model of prohibition is not a success by any measure.

  15. Dennis Sceviour

    Most of the well-known philosophers agree that there is such as thing as “moral obligation”, but do not agree as to what to do with it.

    “It is quite clear, then, that a free curiosity has more power to make us learn these things than a terrifying obligation (St. Augustine, Confessions).”

  16. Jim,

    The state does have a right to keep people from operating vehicles and such while drunk or high, but beyond that I am with Mill (and you) on this one. If someone wants to get high in their own home and does not endanger others, then we do not have the right to impose our will.

    While I’m against using the currently illegal (and many legal) drugs, I think they should be decriminalized and sold just like the currently legal drugs. While we’d still have many problems, we would be rid of many more.

  17. Jim;

    In your opinion, does the state has moral obligations? and if it does, how do you define them?

    In my opinion, it has and yes I have an opinion on what they should be. Protect the members of the community from harm is a major moral obligation of the state. My justification is simple: to live in a communitiy requieres that its members abstain to harm each other, and we delegate this power to the state. I believe that this includes protecting from self inflicted harm; when a person self destruction behaviour goes out of control, the community must step in and protect this individual. In that sense, correctly or incorrectly, I have assumed this is not a preference but an obligation.

  18. Dennis Sceviour

    @Juan J Miret,
    Mike has reminded me of the example I was looking for above — Mill’s Harm Principle:

    “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign (JS Mill, On Liberty).”

  19. Jim, Mike and Dennis;

    Like many people, I struggle to balance two values that I hold very dear: individual freedom and individual unalienable rights (those rights that are not subject to majority decision) and the responsabilities of the community represented by the state to its citizen.

    My question is: Is self destruction a right? Does an individual have the right to self destruct or engage in self destructing activities?
    Or self destruction is a disease?

    Surprisingly, when I look at different activities I find myself on different sides. For example, in my opinion, suicide is a result of sickness and the state must intervene; however I believe that euthanasia is a private decision- I believe an individual facing certain death and likely painful death has the right to decide the quality of his last days.
    Contrary to the american law, I believe addiction is a sickness and should be treated as such. I am comfortable with the current regulations around alcohol, but I believe in stricter regulations against tobacco. Tobacco consumption not only will kill the individual but is a huge public health issue, with significant cost to the taxpayer. Regarding drugs, I am not certain of the best avenue. I am not fully convinced that legalizing drugs and providing small quantities to addicts will solve the problem. The nature of the addiction will force the individual to seek for more of what is given to him; therefore will the alternative/ilegal market disapear?

    These are certainly complex issues, at least for me, and I value a lot your points of view.


  20. jim p houston

    Juan (& Dennis),

    The ‘nilhistic’ claim that there are no such things as ‘moral obligations’ needs to be argued for not baldly asserted of course. But I think there is nothing out there that could make claims of the form “x is immoral” or “y is morally obligatory” true – not in the spirit in which such utterances are typically made anyway.

    There are facts about what causes harm and suffering and there are facts about what different people and societies value and disvalue and that, I think, is that.

    If Bob says ’x has a moral obligation do y’ I don’t know what Bob is adding to the utterance “I want x to do y’ apart from some emphasis on just how strongly he feels about it and the illusion that he is making a factual claim about the world. I think all that can usefully be said can be said without talk of things being “immoral” or “morally obligatory”. Bob might want to consider whether, once he has talked about the empirical facts and how he feels about them, there remains anything worthwhile left him for to say. He may end up with the feeling that there is, if he wants to work within a naturalistic worldview (and I think he should) he might want to consider what could possibly be left to usefully say though.

    Personally I’m inclined to think moral talk is worse than redundant. But it’s beyond the scope of present time-constraints for me to do much more than raise this as a possibility to consider.

  21. jonathan smith

    My question is: Is self destruction a right? Does an individual have the right to self destruct or engage in self destructing activities?
    Or self destruction is a disease? Juan J Miret
    In the UK (again) this self destruction issue often falls into Mental Health. Failed attempts at suicide and also pleas for help with self destructive “concerns” will often become “state issues” I am not against assisted suicide for terminally ill patients and the use of morphine in severe pain, can be used in large quantities to aid that end (or release). The living will is something of a different creature, usually written by a much younger person who wishes to destroy themselves when they no longer have certain abilities or capacities they can exercise. Imagine someone who has lost most of their physical capacities and has very large memory loss, but seems quite at ease with this condition. Is she (or he), to be reminded that they must now be killed as they have reached the state where some years ago they indicated they wished to die. Let us imagine when confronted with this, they cannot remember and get very upset and frightened. Does this counteract the wishes of a different sort of person, not them as they are now?
    I suppose one might argue that this is somewhat different from harming oneself, in that one is in a different physical and mental state from someone who knows what they want to do. What however, after some treatment and therapy they see that what they wanted to do at a former time now fills them with horror and they regard it as
    an aberrant desire or impulse almost a different self.
    A (perhaps) different state of mind is where there is a cultural issue of shame, disgrace, or more generally dishonor. Here suicide is regarded as a matter of cultural requirement rather than personal shortcoming/weakness/illness. Here outsiders may regard this cultural “imperative” as itself aberrant.
    The use of drugs seems to be slightly removed from this self harm as an potential ending of one’s life. Here there is a mix of habit culture ( the coke party sniffers, or the weed smokers, etc.,).I suppose here the “can you, do you function “normally” is a question that the individual needs to answer. Sometimes these habits, become self destructive but are part of a cultural set of identities, sometimes in an unstructured or highly demanding life style (singers, artists).
    I’m not suggesting that in all states of possible harm the state intervenes, but that society makes it easier to recognize and help where these habits become destructive. I am certainly on the side of legalizing or making available drugs. This reduces the crime and sub culture issue. However this means the state must somehow supply these drugs , the alternative is the introduction of adulterated and harmful substances (dealers don’t really care too much about the health of their users).
    My approach might seem too much interventionist for some, but my background was in mental health where we used to pick up the pieces and in many cases, people did change and become independent of their recurring desires to harm or end it all. In a more general vein harm to self might look an individual act – it rarely is – it has consequences for others.

  22. I’m inclined to accept that people have a right to self-abuse and I base this on Mill’s arguments, plus some lengthy arguments based on the general notion of freedom. The gist is that as long as I am only hurting myself, it is not the legitimate business of others to compel me to stop against my will. If I starting harming them, then they have the right to impose. So, for example, if Bob wants to snort coke in his basement, then that is his right. But, if Bob wants to go to work and direct airline traffic while high, then it becomes our business.

    That said, I have been tempted by the idea that people have moral obligations to themselves. Or, to set aside obligations, that people can wrong themselves and thus there are some things that they should not do and, perhaps, should be prevented from doing. Mill’s argument is a utilitarian one, so it does allow imposing on people when doing so would be justified by this principle.

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