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Pay to breathe? ‘Oxygen bars’ hit New Delhi as India chokes under pollution & declares health emergency

Pay to breathe? ‘Oxygen bars’ hit New Delhi as India chokes under pollution & declares health emergency
A new fad sweeping India offers customers a breath of fresh air… literally. As pollution in New Delhi hits toxic levels, “oxygen bars” are popping up in the city to help locals breathe easy, but some found the idea off-putting.

New Delhi officials were recently forced to declare a public health emergency over the city’s hazardous air quality after pollution levels soared to around 20 times what the World Health Organization deems safe, halting construction projects, and closing schools across the capital. While the smog-filled air is inescapable for many, those with the cash may find a brief reprieve at their local oxygen bar.

One such establishment, dubbed Oxy Pure, is tucked away in the corner of an upscale shopping mall, with bright lights and gadgets glowing through its clear glass storefront. Here, customers can pay between 299 and 499 rupees (around $4 to $7) for a 15-minute oxygen session, with their choice of several fragrances: orange, lavender, cinnamon, eucalyptus, lemongrass or peppermint.

Air pollution is going to dangerous levels so people are coming here to breathe pure oxygen,” Oxy Pure owner Aryavir Kumar told the National.

Each winter, air quality suffers in cities around India as winds die down and farmers burn the remnants of crops to make room for the next harvest. This time around, Kumar says New Delhi’s worsening smog has driven a surge of business at his establishment.

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We would get 15-20 people a day [before]. Now we are getting 30-40 customers every day,” he said. “There is a tremendous increase in the numbers of customers in the last two weeks.”

Conjuring images of a pulmonary ward, the bars deliver O2 through a standard cannula device which customers hook up to their nostrils, cranked out of a “concentrator” machine that pulls clean oxygen out of the polluted air. While Kumar is careful to insist the “oxygen therapy” does not cure any diseases, he says the air can rejuvenate “like a spa.”

Despite the potential for benefits, many online found the concept downright dystopian, suggesting a future in which only the wealthy can afford to breathe non-toxic air.

“Commodify oxygen already,”tweeted one frustrated user. “F--k it, Commodify EVERYTHING. Subscriptions to life. $1.99 a minute.”

Even so, the naysayers are unlikely to put a stop to the trend anytime soon. With India home to 15 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, the country’s air quality woes are here to stay for some time, perhaps pushing a greater number of Indians into oxygen bars like Oxy Pure, or at least those who can afford it.

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