Health experts criticised the alcohol industry for promoting “dangerous gimmicks” after a teenager had to undergo a lifesaving operation to remove her stomach after drinking a liquid nitrogen cocktail.
Gaby Scanlon, 18, was celebrating her birthday with friends in Lancaster on Thursday when she consumed the steam-effect drink. Doctors operated on the perforated organ after she complained of feeling breathless and suffering severe stomach pain.
The schoolgirl was in a serious but stable condition at Lancaster Royal Infirmary.
Although the cocktail, known as a Nitro Jagermeister, is believed to have been prepared correctly, the incident has prompted a national debate over the safety of the drinks which are commonly sold in clubs and bars and recipes for which are readily available on the internet
Doctor John Ashton, director of public health for Cumbria, said: “This girl is the victim of an irresponsible alcohol industry that's now competing on gimmicks. Alcohol itself is a very dangerous thing if improperly handled and liquid nitrogen is a toxic chemical. It destroys human tissue.”
Peter Barham, of the University of Bristol's School of Physics, said the temperature of the liquid was around -196C and could cause frostbite or cryogenic burns if not prepared properly.
“Liquid nitrogen can be used safely in the preparation of foods. However, since it is not safe to ingest liquid nitrogen due care must be taken to ensure that the liquid has all evaporated before serving any food or drink that was prepared with liquid nitrogen,” he said.
Liquid nitrogen rapidly cools a liquid as it boils away at room temperature – producing the steam effect.
Meanwhile, Paul Aitchison, chairman of Lancaster City Council's Licensing Act Committee, said the incident would be discussed at its next meeting although he said he had also tried the drink but suffered no ill effects.
Police said they are continuing to investigate the incident. A number of witnesses at the wine bar where it was drunk are being interviewed by police and the premises has stopped selling drinks containing the chemical.
Liz Nicholls, head teacher at Ripley St Thomas Church of England Academy, said “Gaby is one of our most hardworking and mature students who had simply gone out for a quiet birthday celebration. Our whole school community is shocked and upset at what has happened.”
A Lancashire Police spokeswoman said: "Medical opinion is that this would have proved fatal had the operation not been carried out urgently. The investigation is still in its early stages and we are still interviewing witnesses to establish the full facts.”