People in China are being sold bottled Australian air - but there's no good reason to buy it
For at least the second time, "entrepreneurs" have created a buzz by packaging something that should be free for all and is essential for life - air - and selling it to residents of Chinese cities that currently are exposed to horrific air pollution. (China's smog is responsible for approximately 1.6 million deaths there every year.)
This time, Mashable reports that a company called Green and Clean Air is selling cans of "pure air" from different areas of Australia and New Zealand for $18.80 (Australian dollars).That is, if you consider air that's been siphoned into an aluminum can, wrapped in plastic, and then shipped thousands of miles "pure."
On their website, they say that each can holds about 130 breaths.
John Dickinson, one of the co-founders of the company, told Mashable Australia that their product appeals to people for two reasons.
The fairly innocuous (if a bit silly) one is that this bottle of air could be like a memento or souvenir to remind customers of Australia. If putting your face up to a can of air and breathing it brings back some sweet memories of touring Sydney or your surfing adventure to Perth, okay, sure.
But the Green and Clean Air website also dedicates a fair amount of space to discussing the global pollution problem, especially in China.
"Clean air is imperative for good health," the website explains. They never explicitly say that breathing these cans will undo the damage caused by pollution, they simply say that their clients tell them "breathing our clean air makes them feel better and they believe it helps with their health."So people spend money on this product because they think it might help with their health, though there's no research cited to support that idea.
Dickinson told Mashable that Chinese customers are interested for health reasons:
"They are all becoming very health conscious, they are all exercising, they are all taking supplements, but the reality is: they can't change the air they breathe," Dickinson explained. "That is really one of the reasons we were interested in that market because of that real awareness of health and wellbeing, and it is fair to say that whatever products that they can get their hands on that they associate with health and wellbeing they are quite receptive to."
But here's the thing. There's no reason to think that breathing a can of clean air makes any difference to your health whatsoever. No studies or experts are cited on the Green and Clean website, and the company hasn't responded to a a request from Tech Insider for any medical research supporting their product.
Additionally, there's no discussion of the way that manufacturing and shipping these products to China might contribute to that pollution problem. We also asked if there was any carbon offset program to compensate for these effects, but haven't heard back.
This isn't the first time people have profited by selling "air" to people that live in polluted places.
When a company called Vitality Air started compressing Alberta, Canada's crisp, clean air into aluminum cans and shipping it across the globe, we also asked them for any scientific evidence supporting the idea that this could have any impact on your health. They did not respond.Then, we reached out to Shawn Aaron, director of the Canadian Respiratory Research Network, to see if we were missing something here, if there could be any way that breathing air from a can could help you when you are exposed to pollution with every other breath you take. It turns out that our suspicions were correct.
When asked if breathing in bottles of oxygen or air have any health benefits, Aaron said that he did not know of any.
"As far as I know this has never been studied," Aaron told Tech Insider via email. "We do know that breathing in pollution is bad for you ... however we don't know that these 7-Liter bottles of pollution-free air have any good health effects, beyond placebo effects." (At the time, Vitality air was selling 7-liter bottles, though it looks like now they sell air in 3 and 8 liter sizes.)
So it's pretty unlikely there's any health benefit to this product that's marketed to people interested in improving their health.
There's nothing technically illegal about profiting from the fact that other people live in horrible conditions if you aren't lying - and by not making direct statements about health benefits, there's no lie on the Green and Clean website. You could travel to the Sahara desert to sell a lost man that's dying of thirst a few drops of water, too. He might be a willing customer, even if those drops wouldn't change his situation at all.
But will breathing these cans of air do any harm? Probably not, Aaron said, assuming there aren't any contaminants in the bottle.
Ironically, manufacturing and transporting those bottles of air will only add to global pollution, though this company's impact is likely too small to make a meaningful difference.
The smog pollution in China is serious - nearly 4,000 people die from it each day. But all in all, the biggest harm in shipping air around the globe will be to the consumer's wallet. Because seriously, only desperate people shell out boatloads of cash for air.And taking advantage of this by asking people to pay for something they should be getting for free - clean air - is inexcusable.