What started out as a joke straight out of Spaceballs has suddenly taken off as a viable business - a Canadian start-up selling bottled air from the Rocky Mountains has seen a surge of sales from China, with its first shipment selling out in four days.
The concept of Vitality Air was dreamt up back in 2013, when a couple of Canadians auctioned off a bag of air for less than 99 cents on eBay. Their second bag sold for US$160. "That's when we realised there is a market for this," co-founder Moses Lam told The Telegraph.
"A gag gift, that's how it started off, but you know what? There's actually a lot of demand for this in … highly polluted countries," Lam told the Canadan National Post.
While most of us are pretty satisfied with the air we get for free, increasing anxiety over the health effects of China's polluted air - which in Beijing is worse than it's ever been - has driven some to fork out as much as US$22.95 for a 10-litre bottle of 97 percent 'Pure Premium Oxygen', which "provides upwards of 200 inhalations!". The same amount of cash will get you 7.7 litres of 'Lake Louise Air', which gives you 150 breaths.
Customers are given two options: pure oxygen, which contains 97 percent oxygen and a small amount of other gases, or "fresh clean air", which contains 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, and a small amount of other gases.
If you opt for the fresh clean air, you can choose to have it sourced from the general Banff National Park area in Alberta, Canada, or pay a bit more to have it bottled near the national park's Lake Louise. The company claims that its products can help address "hangovers, alertness, and working out", while also being "your solution to pollution".
According to the National Post, other applications suggested on the label include "exam prep" and "training", but a disclaimer notes that it can't help you with "curing, treating, or preventing any diseases or disorders".
Officially launched last year, Vitality Air has since been mainly selling their bottled fresh air and oxygen to customers from North America, India, and the Middle East. But since they opened up sales to China two months ago, it's become by far their biggest overseas market.
"Our first shipment of 500 bottles of fresh air were sold in four days," Lam told Jennifer Pak at The Telegraph. He added that they have a crate containing 4,000 more bottles on its way to China, but most of it has already been bought. They're now struggling to keep up with demand, as each bottle is produced by hand.
While the business itself is ethically pretty gross, it's no surprise that the Chinese locals are looking for creative solutions to ease their anxiety over the state of their country. Just a couple of weeks ago, Beijing issued its first ever 'red alert', with smog levels reaching more than 20 times the designated 'safe' limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and levels of dangerous particles skyrocketing.
As David Nield reported for us earlier this month:
"On [30 November], the air level quality index that measures dangerous particles in the air hit 666 in Beijing. To give you some context, in the US, anything above 300 is considered capable of causing the entire population serious health problems. The US scale actually tops out at 500."
Chinese officials finally admitted last month that the country has been emitting nearly 1 billion tonnes more CO2 and burning 17 percent more coal each year than it's previously disclosed.
With a potential public health crisis on their hands and some very angry citizens, the local government is now taking measures, with some cities buying mist cannons to dispurse air pollution, and there are plans to launch pollution-tracking satellites in the coming months while cracking down on the country's biggest polluters.
It's too soon to tell, but they're likely going to have to do a whole lot more to combat this problem. We'll have to wait and see what that will be in the coming years, but until then, expect to see more 'bottled air' ideas cropping up - this US$763 jar of air from the south of France was just the beginning.