I’ll Huff, and I’ll Puff…and I’ll Die
by Daniel J. Marco

Having prosecuted a number of product liability cases against some very large corporations, I can tell you that one of the hardest things to do is to get a corporation to admit their product causes harm.  Rarely does a corporation place a warning label on a product that is, even to them, obviously harmful.  They wait until people die.  And after that, grudgingly, they will stamp a warning on their cans. 
How many of these warning labels have you taken the time to read?  How many have your kids read?  I hazard to guess not very many.  And, if the product you purchased was a can of compressed air to dust off your computer, would you even bother to read the label?  Would your kids?
There is a product called Dust Off® that is just that, compressed air to blow dust off of your electronics.  Unfortunately, kids have taken to inhaling this product for a quick and cheap and, to them, an apparently legal high.  Whether you call it huffing, or puffing (the kids call it “dusting” now) it is killing kids. (You can go to their web page and see their warning).  Dust Off® is not the only product being inhaled these days, nor necessarily the worst.  But its popularity is growing and so is the wake of its effects.   If you look closely at the can, Dust Off® is not compressed air, rather it is the chemical 1,1- Difluoroethane, a fluorinated hydrocarbon, also known as fluorocarbons or Freons.  They are used as propellants, refrigerants and cleaning agents. 
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Inhalants . . . are often among the first drugs that young children use.  One National survey indicates that about 3.0 percent of US children have tried inhalants by the time they reach fourth grade.  Inhalant abuse can become chronic and extend into adulthood. . . Data . . . suggests inhalant abuse reaches its peak at some point during seventh through ninth grades.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that inhaled chemicals are “rapidly absorbed through the lungs and quickly distributed to the brain and other organs.  Within seconds of inhalation, the user experiences intoxication along with other effects similar to those produced by alcohol.  Alcohol like effects may include slurred speech, an inability to coordinate movements, euphoria and dizziness.  In addition, users may experience lightheadedness, hallucinations, and delusion.”  These effects are very short lived leading users to repeat the inhaling process many times over a short period of hours.
The NIDA continues, “The most serious hazard for an inhalant user is a syndrome called ‘sudden sniffing death.’  A single, prolonged session of inhalant use can produce rapid and irregular heart rhythms, heart failure and death.  It can happen within minutes and can strike an otherwise healthy young person. But inhalant abuse can cause death in other ways too – asphyxiation, suffocation, or choking.”
The problem we have as parents is that if we find a pack of rolling papers in our kids’ room, we probably know what they are up to, but does a can of air freshener or Dust Off® say the same thing to us?  Below are the types of products to look for[1]:



Nail polish remover with acetone or toluene


Whippets (small canisters of nitrous oxide that propel whipped cream)


Vegetable cooking sprays


Liquid correction fluid


Halon fire extinguishers


Gasoline and propane fuel


VCR head cleaner


Spray paint


Hair spray


WD-40 (automotive)


Felt tip markers


Butane (including cigarette lighters)


Air Fresheners




Paint thinner


Gumout (automotive)

And don’t overlook these symptoms, especially if they are chronic, in combination, or don’t respond to medication:

  • red or runny nose
  • sores or rash around the mouth and nose
  • nausea and headaches
  • chronic cough
  • sudden memory loss or lack of concentration

Also be on the lookout for:

  • chemical smell on the breath, on clothes or in the bedroom
  • paint stains on clothing and skin
  • soda cans, rags, sandwich bags with a chemical smell

Otherwise, many of the warning signs for inhalant abuse are the same as for any drug:

  • abrupt changes in schoolwork and attendance
  • changes in personal hygiene
  • extreme mood swings
  • red, irritated eyes
  • sudden weight loss
  • sudden loss of interest in friends, sports or hobbies

This is a tough one.  There are few overt signs. Stumbling across a stash of spray paint may strike you as odd but it will not scream abuse at you, like a bag of pot or a bag of white powder.  If you don’t know exactly what your teenager is using such products for, it is reasonable to suspect inhalant use. But don’t expect your teen to confess if confronted; instead, contact a local drug-counseling group. An experienced counselor may be able to moderate a productive session between you and your child.
[1] List compiled from http://www.geocities.com/Athens/4111/index.html