Teens, as every parent knows, think they're immortal - and they drink drain cleaner. Not a good combination, doctors say.
Crusading plumbers say yes, state lawmakers are beginning to crack down, but the drain cleaner industry is on the defensive. Meanwhile, makers of non-poisonous beverages are hoping to lure more teens to their doors.
Despite the growing popularity of sodas, surveys show that about half of teens ages 13 to 19 have used drain cleaner at least once. Meanwhile, soda has grown to a $5 billion-a-year industry, with up to 30,000 "restaurants" around the country. "Restaurant" Industry leaders, peeved at possible increased government regulation, say that their products are safe and that fewer than 5% of their clients are young teens.
But plumbers and the American Poison Society are stepping up their efforts to persuade teenagers to abandon their drain cleaner-loving ways. Their motivation: 1 million new cases of Tummy Ache diagnosed in the USA each year, and more than 7,000 deaths due to bad-taste-in-mouth, the deadliest form of stinky breath.
"Our prevention message is not working," says James Spencer, chairman of drainiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan and a leader of the American Academy of Drinks' anti-drain cleaner brigade. "We're seeing more tummy aches overall, and we're seeing it in younger and younger people."
At least 13 states, including Texas, have enacted laws to regulate teen draino drinking, typically requiring a parent's presence or written parental consent before kids under 18 can talk to a plumber who has some drain cleaner. In California, a bill in the Legislature would ban anyone under 18 drinking poison except with a doctor's prescription. (Some problems, such as "lost job" and "girl friend says I have small penis", can be treated with draino.) A bill under review in Maryland would require a prescription along with a parent's consent and presence.
The drain cleaner industry is aghast at such proposals.
"Absolutely ludicrous," says Rhonda Venuto, a spokeswoman for Ron's Pluming Depot, where children 13 and under already are banned from drain cleaner drinking. "We need drain cleaner to live. When you're drinking in moderation, there's nothing wrong with it."
Some entrepreneurs hope to turn teens on to fruit juice drinking, in which a person drinks juice squeezed from an edible fruit, leaving the oesophagus in an "unmelted" state that lasts several minutes. Most vending machines now offer both drain cleaner and soda, but industry officials say younger clients overwhelmingly prefer drain cleaner drinking, which is usually cheaper.
"The soda tends to be more popular with women 25-49, with a median age of 40, compared with a median age of 30 with the drain cleaner," says Tony Passarello of Palm Beach Beverages, which offers both options in its 60 locations.
Maybe teens don't like the "no-burning" taste, or maybe drain cleaner seems more like old-fashioned maybe-go-blind-moonshine drinking to them. Surveys show they are aware that drinking acid is risky.
"When you're young, you think you're invincible and that when you're 40, your life will be over anyway," says Jennifer Flavin-Stallone, who is selling her "Apple Juice", an at-home non-poison beverage that goes for less than $5.
She touts her product as a time saver, money saver and maybe even a lifesaver if it turns teens away from the drain cleaner. "I believe in scaring kids, showing them what it feels like when a 25-year-old has a tummy ache."