Israeli Gas Masks Help Get You High(er)

Scarce in Israel, They Are Easy To Score in East Village

No Shortage: Israeli gas masks on display in Manhattan, with bongs attached to them.
claudio papapietro
No Shortage: Israeli gas masks on display in Manhattan, with bongs attached to them.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published April 22, 2012, issue of April 27, 2012.
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Supply of the bong-mask combos doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. That’s not the case with functional, filter-fitted 4A1s, which are made to protect civilians from nuclear, chemical or biological attacks. Though the Israeli government has just finished distributing 4 million of the masks to its citizens, production is now stopped, according to a recent report in The Jerusalem Post, and budget shortfalls will mean that 40% of Israelis won’t receive 4A1s from the government.

Israel’s distribution of the 4A1s, meanwhile, has also caused something of a shortage of working masks in the United States, where doomsday predictions fuel purchases, according to Golan Friedman, marketing director of RDD USA. Lomeli said his company couldn’t get any more working masks from their Israel-based suppliers, although they are available online now.

“We cannot get a single one,” Lomeli said. “Whatever we have in stock, that’s it. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”

RDD USA’s functional masks with filters sell for $19.90 online.

According to Lomeli, the gas masks used to hook up with the bongs are likely surplus, sold by the Israeli government in bulk without filters. He said that they were probably among the masks recalled by the Israeli government beginning in 2006.

The sale of the gas mask bongs exists in something of a legal gray area. Merchants in New York are protected by an interpretation of state law that forces prosecutors attempting to prove a drug paraphernalia case to show that a device in question is intended for use with illegal drugs, a high legal bar. As long as the gas mask bongs are marketed for use with tobacco, the sellers and wholesalers are safe under state laws, experts say.

Federal laws are tougher. If someone is accused in federal court of selling drug paraphernalia, prosecutors need to show only that the items are meant for use with illegal drugs, not that the seller specifically intended them for illegal use. According to Robert Vaughn, a Tennessee attorney who sits on the board of the marijuana legalization advocacy group NORML, federal charges against paraphernalia vendors are very hard to defend. The sale of drug paraphernalia is a felony under federal law and carries a possible prison sentence of three years.

Still, prosecutions are relatively rare. “In all candor, they can’t prosecute everybody,” Vaughn said. “So what are the statistical odds it will be you and not me?”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis


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