Will these bottles of “fresh air” on Taobao be the antidote to smog?

Ah, the smog-shrouded city of Beijing. So heavy is the smog that even sunlight fails to reach your windowpane. So how about a wake-up bottle of fresh air?

The idea of “selling air” is not new. After all, where there is the torment of smog, there is a need for clean air. Yet recently, Chinese e-commerce platforms have been offering bottled air at a range of prices. Chinese authorities maybe should consider if they need to categorize the items so that “air” could become a legally recognised “product”.

Fresh air made in China

Among the various available choices, there is the homemade fresh air from Weihai, Shandong province, priced at RMB 5 (USD 0.73). The ad reads:

“Wanna have some purest and freshest air? Try our bottled air from Weihai! Air from the seaside or from the mountains, it’s your choice!”

In the column of “product introduction”, it reads:

“Abundant in negative oxygen ions. Freshly bottled, freshly mailed. Long expiration date. Those in cities with heavy smog can buy one and get one free.”

Chinese media Ynet.com interviewed the store owner, who, upon knowing that the journalist is from Beijing, said, “I’ll send you four bottles for RMB 5!”

However, packed in a used mineral water bottle, the air can only be enjoyed by using your utmost strength to inhale once the lid is open. As to when exactly the expiration date would be, the store owner shook head and said “dunno”.

Fresh air mailed from abroad

If you are worried about unbranded, dateless bottled air from a nameless factory, you can try air imported from New Zealand and from Canada.

The imported bottled air is better packaged, and this apparently makes it easier to inhale. For the bottled air imported from New Zealand, users only need to open the lid and put the spray nozzle in front of nose and mouth, before slightly pushing it. It claims that as long as the lid is on, the fresh air will not “expire”.

Packaged together with the bottled “Vitality Air” from Canada is a face mask, which purports to help users inhale most of the air stored in the bottle. This one seems to be more reliable as it says that the bottled air may expire in a year. After all, how can air be “fresh” if it’s been in a bottle for a year? Right?

While the above two types of bottled air are now priced at RMB 219 and RMB 199 respectively on e-commerce platform Taobao.com, it’s not too expensive if you do some math and realize that it only costs around RMB 1 for every breath you take, if indeed the bottled air can be inhaled around 180 times as claimed.

Considering that an average adult may take 20,000 to 30,000 breaths per day with no strenuous activities, relying on bottled air does not appear to be practical.

Who is paying for the bottled air?

According to Ynet.com, bottled air has not yet been officially categorized as a product in China. This indicates that official standards are not available to ensure that products are what they say they are. Yet if the air is imported from abroad under a certain category, then it is allowed to be put on the shelf.

Now the question is: How big is the market for bottled air?

The store owner in Weihai, Shandong, who sells air in used plastic bottles, told Ynet.com that no one has bought a single bottle from him yet. However, on Tmall.com, the Zelanian air priced at RMB 219 sold two bottles in the past month; the official WeChat account of the Canadian Vitality Air says it sold 10,000 bottles in eight months since it arrived in China last August.

Considering that British air was sold at GBP 80 (USD 99; RMB 683) to wealthy Chinese elites, the relatively cheaper alternatives that are available now may reach common families as well.

Who is paying for fresh air, which was originally something consumed for free? Essentially, everyone – some pay with their health and life, and some pay with their health, life, and money.

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

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