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‘Oxygen bars’ are all the rage in pollution-choked New Delhi

‘Oxygen bars’ are all the rage in pollution-choked New Delhi

New Delhi city officials recently declared a public health emergency over the city’s dangerous air quality, after pollution hit toxic levels, 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.

A new fad now offers customers a breath of fresh air… literally. For a price, of course. As pollution in New Delhi soars to around 20 times what the World Health Organization deems safe, “oxygen bars” are popping up in the city to help locals breathe easy, but some found the idea off-putting.

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 said.

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.

“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.

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.