Arm Yourself for the Airpocalypse

Social Commentary

Arm Yourself for the Airpocalypse

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza/ Arré

People of Delhi have been waking up to apocalyptic levels of smoke for the last few years now. Despite several anti-cracker drives and words like “beyond severe” being thrown about in almost every news report, the pollution levels have somehow managed to be two times higher than last year. The entire city is basically chain-smoking the day away.

Turns out desperate times call for desperate capitalism – at least that’s what this one company from Canada thinks. The start-up, which began offering it’s product as a joke on e-Bay, and went on to tour China, has now found it fitting to extend a punchline to Delhi.

Vitality Air doesn’t claim to be the “solution to pollution”, but offers a breath of fresh air in the form of canisters of compressed air straight from the Rocky Mountains. Justin Dhaliwal, the vice president for Vitality’s business development, spoke to us about where his product fits into this haze.

According to him, Vitality takes “great care to contain and deliver this fresh air” so that we don’t contract a violent air-borne disease every time we go out to get some milk. The plan is simple – sell eight-litre cans of fresh air taken from the Banff National Park in Canada at roughly ₹2,000 a can everywhere else in the world – a price that can also get you these two “fully trained pair of ducks”.

The intent behind launching a product like this is admirable, till you hear about how expensive the damn thing actually is. Assuming we take approximately 23,000 breaths per day, and one can gives you 160 shots of fresh air, we’d need about 144 bottles of Vitality Air to ensure we only breathe clean mountain air through the day. This costs ₹2,88,000 per day, which safe to say, is out of most Dilliwallahs reach.

So it’s a “luxury” item (only rich people deserve fresh air), so it probably works like a dream, right? Well, turns out the company hasn’t conducted any case studies, or proven any health benefits of it’s product. This has not stopped the people of China embracing this expensive air in a can. When the bottles went on Taobao, a Chinese website similar to Flipkart, they apparently “sold out almost instantly”.

Dhaliwal says Vitality has helped convince the Chinese that there’s no smog without fire and doesn’t see why this can’t extend to India. Approximately one million people die each year of air pollution-related causes in the country. “But most are not aware of the seriousness of living in poor air quality,” he says. He admits Vitality can’t eradicate pollution, but says the product intends to give people a slight break from coughing up their lungs. “Pregnant mothers use our product. They have reported that they have felt their babies kicking when they breathe in the fresh air,” he boasts. But, once again, unfortunately, there is no scientific basis for this.

Following this moderate success, the company has decided to launch two more product lines, “Oxygen” and “fresh air”. In India, they’re working with a select few to launch their fresh air bottles.

Collecting fresh air is hard work. It takes the team about 40 hours in the mountains to compress the air into cans. After that, it’s taken to their lab where each bottle is hand-filled, a process that takes about six minutes each. Dhaliwal says it’s a labour-intensive product, but the reason for staying away from machines is obvious; the oil and grease would “jeopardise the integrity” of the air.

A smartass would say that this is no different from any regular air filter, or face mask. But Dhaliwal argues that air filters are rarely portable, and that wearing face masks are uncomfortable and get dirty quickly. Plus, going to work as Bane doesn’t fit too many people’s idea of a good look.

Vitality’s container and delivery system is an easier way to allow customers to breathe “imported” air, Vitality says. “The air is so clean, it doesn’t require any filtration from PM particles.” The bottles are completely sealed, so they can be reused without any fear of contamination. The face mask attached to the bottle also doubles up as a cap, so that not everyone has to look like they have a chronic disease all the time.

There’s no proof of how much this product helps, and by Dhaliwal’s own admission, “pollution will still be there at the end of the day”. The company is still on the lookout for “credible institutions” to conduct case studies. But one thing’s for sure, there’s no way this product could hurt. Plus it’s hard not to find your market in a country where you can also buy air-conditioned underwear online.