updated 9/15/2004 5:34:56 PM ET 2004-09-15T21:34:56

These are not good days for the people who are trying to sell New York on a machine that lets you inhale a martini instead of drinking it.

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First, they had to use fruit juice rather than alcohol at the big debut at a Manhattan nightspot. Then officials in two suburban counties announced they would try to ban it. But worst of all, the first bar to buy the machine has sent it back, disappointed by the lack of a “buzz.”   “They shouldn’t waste their breath trying to outlaw this machine,” said Steve Baskinger, owner of Bask’s Bar and Grill, in West Paterson, N.J. “You can’t get drunk. You don’t get anything from it. It takes 20 minutes to inhale a quarter of a shot.”

The alcohol without liquid (AWOL) machine vaporizes booze so customers can inhale it rather than drink it.

The makers tout it as a way to get a buzz without the calories, carbs or much of a hangover. The machine pumps pressurized oxygen through a hose over a small amount of liquor in a canister held by the customer, who sucks up the vapor.

Baskinger said he sent back his $3,695 machine on Monday, four days after it was delivered and he and his staff eagerly tried it out. “I’m a gadget guy, but you can’t get excited about this thing,” he said.

Over the weekend, after charging people $10 a pop, he decided it wasn’t going to catch on.

The bar owner spoke not long after Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano unveiled a bill that would ban AWOL and anything like it.

In a county plagued by underage drinking, “We don’t need something else that gets people drunk,” said Spano at a news conference in the county seat of White Plains. The New York State Liquor Authority hasn’t decided whether the machine will be allowed to operate anywhere in the state.

Targeted to young people?
The AWOL machine is being marketed as low-calorie and low-carbohydrate, and “It’s not supposed to give you a hangover,” Spano said. “It’s a panacea. Except that it still gets you drunk if you overdo it, and it’s easy to do, and it’s being promoted in a way that looks like they’re trying to entice young people to use it.”

Police Chief Joseph Krzeminski of the village of Port Chester noted that the AWOL Internet site calls the machine “the ultimate party toy.”

The Westchester bill is similar to one introduced in Suffolk County by Legislator Jon Cooper, who said called the AWOL machine “dangerous to a person’s health.”

“It can lead to increased drunken driving,” he said, “and they’re clearly targeting a younger audience.”

The criticism put Kevin Morse, president of Spirit Partners, of Greensboro, N.C., in the position of having to defend his machine from officials who thought people would get too high and a bar owner who thought they wouldn’t get high enough. Spirit Partners has the U.S. license to sell the machine.

“These gentlemen have not seen or talked to anyone who has used AWOL,” Morse said of the public officials. “It’s a fun new way for adults to enjoy alcohol in a responsible manner. We don’t want underage people anywhere near AWOL.”

As to the bar owner, “We’re sorry he’s not happy. Maybe he had some unrealistic expectations. There is not as much buzz. You get less alcohol in your system and it is a milder feeling.”

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