Israel has a shortage of civilian gas masks, but you wouldn’t know it from walking down Manhattan’s St. Mark’s Place, where the masks are on sale in half a dozen stores for a mere $25 each.
The Israeli model 4A1 gas masks on display in the East Village — where storefront noodle shops bump up against vintage clothing stores — might not protect you from a chemical weapons attack. That’s because their protective filters have been removed and replaced with foot-long acrylic bongs meant for smoking marijuana.
Gas mask bongs, used by pot aficionados to intensify the drug’s impact, started flooding American head shops about a decade ago, some insiders say. That is roughly around the same time that the Israeli government recalled millions of masks it had distributed to civilians during the 2003 invasion of Iraq that the United States led.
It’s hard to say whether that timing is coincidental. But it is clear that the black gas masks with circular glass eyeholes, sold in American head shops, are authentic Israeli masks, down to the telltale rubber-triangle seal of Shalon Chemical Industries Ltd., the Tel Aviv-based company that makes all the civilian gas masks of Israel.
“They’re the real deal,” said Tony Lomeli, manager of RDD USA, a Los Angeles military surplus dealer that sells Israeli 4A1s for use as survival gear.
Though the masks themselves all look alike, the attached bongs vary. Some are long and straight, others end in a bubble. One mask-attached bong spotted in a display on St. Mark’s Place was shaped like a human face.
Though the appeal of the gas mask bongs may lie partially in their spooky aesthetic, they are valued mostly for the way they force smoke into the lungs. The seal around the user’s face, designed to keep out chemicals during an attack, locks in the marijuana smoke, forcing the smoker to inhale it all at once.
“It’s kind of a step above a bong,” said Rick Cusick, associate publisher of the marijuana-themed magazine High Times. “It makes for a slam dunk kind of thing.”
Cusick, 57, said that when he was young, smokers would hook up bongs to gas masks themselves. He said that the devices have become commercially available in only the past decade. One head shop clerk suggested that the 2007 movie “Knocked Up,” which featured a gas mask bong, likely contributed to their recent popularity.