hot air

You already suspect that luxury bottled air is a bogus idea—and these scientists confirm it

A UK businessman is the latest entrepreneur to vend an unusual luxury product: air bottled in a bucolic setting and exported to pollution-choked cities in China.

Since launching a few weeks ago, Aethaer has sold some 180 jars of west Britain’s finest oxygen for £80 each ($115) to customers in Asia. A Chinese New Year special offers 15 bottles for just $888 ($1,287).

“Think of us as being the equivalent of Louis Vuitton or Gucci,” explained founder Leo De Watts, 27, to the Dorset Echo newspaper.

Aethaer is similar to Gucci, if Gucci sold empty jars claiming to contain luxury merchandise. It joins a market inaugurated in 2014 by Vitality Air, a Canadian company selling compressed air collected in the Canadian Rockies for up to $32 for 7.7 liters.

Vitality Air started as a gag gift. According to his LinkedIn page, De Watts has worked as a pilot for Cathay Pacific Airways and for events promotion companies. As both companies seem short on environmental credentials, Quartz took their claims to people with lots of them.

“Dubious is too kind. There is no health benefit from inhaling a bottle of ‘clean air,’” said John R. Balmes, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, a professor of environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of California’s state Air Resources Board.

“There are many reasons why it makes no sense at all,” said Suzanne Paulson, a professor and director of the Center for Clean Air at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Paulson outlined some of them. Each Aethaer unit contains 588 ml of air, a negligible amount in comparison to the seven to eight liters of air the average adult breathes in a single minute. A jar that appears identical to the kind used to store jam is not an airtight delivery system. And even if it was, the contents would immediately disperse and mix with the surrounding air upon opening.

“If you want to make a dent in someone’s pollution intake, you would at least pressurize it,” Paulson said, before laughing again.

Air pollution can travel thousands of miles in the wind, so not even the Rockies or the West Country are free of urban-originating pollutants. People concerned about air quality should be filtering the air at their homes, Paulson said—not wasting money on bogus jars of nothing.

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