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A powder being marketed as the only energy product in the Middle East that is sniffed is creating a stir in Lebanon, and authorities this week cautioned against its use and had it pulled from stores.
"Power in a sniff" is the slogan for BullShot, whose Lebanese developers have promoted it as a natural product that gives users an instant energy boost, clearing the mind and increasing concentration and perception.
But many have questioned the safety of the product and are concerned it could encourage young people to take drugs. The debate led authorities to ask that the product be taken off the market for now.
"We've recalled the product for now following a request by the authorities," Charbel Khalil, the company's general manager, told The Associated Press Friday.
BullShot is made with guarana, a paste produced from the seeds of a shrub found in the Amazon rain forest that contains caffeine. It is widely used in carbonated energy drinks in the United States and in Europe.
What worries some about BullShot is that it comes in the form of a powder and is used with a metal sniffer, raising concerns that it could encourage the use of drugs such as cocaine.
It was being sold in Lebanese supermarkets, fuel stations and pubs and could also be ordered online.
"I read about it in the newspapers and was surprised," said Bchara Antonios, a 28-year-old electrician. "It may be harmless to one's health but it's dangerous for the mind. ... First you start with this and then you'll want to sniff other more potent drugs. I'm glad they've stopped selling it."
The country's health minister expressed the same concern Friday.
"It's not a drug, but the way it is used is not encouraging. We don't want people to get used to this method because it might lead to addictions," Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh said at a news conference.
He said that because the product is sniffed it hits the nervous system faster than if it were consumed in a drink, making it potentially more dangerous.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Economy said the product was harmful and cautioned against its use and sale.
Energy drinks containing guarana have generated some debate in the United States. In one case, the US company MillerCoors LLC agreed in 2008 to remove guarana and three other ingredients from its Sparks alcoholic energy drink. Officials in more than a dozen US states had argued the stimulants reduced drinkers' sense of intoxication and that it was marketed to young drinkers.
After an advertising campaign that included organized events and Facebook announcements, the company producing BullShot began selling the product in a kit for $40 that includes 9 grams of powder in a plastic container and a metal, bullet-shaped sniffer.
More than 1,500 kits were sold in the last two months, the company said.
Eddie Khalil, a company official, said the fuss is mostly a result of ignorance and insists the product was approved by the Health Ministry after testing.
"Just because something is sniffed does not mean it is drugs," he said.
He said one of the goals of the company was to combat drug addiction by presenting an alternative.
"One of the aims is to help drug addicts get rid of their psychological addiction by sniffing natural and healthy stuff instead," he said.
"We wanted to work with anti-drug civil groups toward that purpose, but obviously this is not going to happen anymore," Khalil said.