This past weekend close to two dozen customers at a Walmart store in California were injured after a female shopper used pepper spray in order to gain an edge on other shoppers purchasing holiday gifts. Additional incidents were also reported on about police forces in other parts of the country using pepper spray to subdue shoppers. This follows the use of pepper spray by police officers on protestors involved in the “Occupy” movement at a California university that were broadcast worldwide recently.
Closer to home, is a case that occurred in October, 2010. According to Grand Rapids WZZM13 news, a settlement was reached involving the death of a 47 year old Muskegon Heights man who died in police custody after being pepper sprayed.
What are the health risks of pepper spray? According to a report released by the National Institute of Justice, researchers examined the respiratory effects of inhaling pepper spray while in the sitting and restraint positions and compared the results with those contained in the same two positions when subjects inhaled a placebo spray. Study participants were police academy cadets and were generally healthy.
Key findings of the study:
- Pepper spray exposure and inhalation do not result in a significant risk for respiratory compromise or asphyxiation, even when combined with positional restraint.
- There was no evidence of abnormally low oxygen levels or abnormally high levels of carbon dioxide. In fact, the lower levels suggest that pepper spray may actually increase ventilation slightly.
- Researchers detected no difference between the use of pepper spray and placebo groups in the restraint position. There was some decline in pulmonary function, but not enough to be clinically significant.
- Pepper spray exposure did result in an increase in blood pressure, perhaps due to the discomfort and pain associated with the spray.
- The effects of prolonged sprays or repeated exposures were not studied.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, the general public may not be in as good physical condition as the police cadet study participants, and may have infirmities and disabilities that may make the use of pepper spray potentially more harmful to them.
In the United States, pepper spray is legal in all 50 states, however, Michigan is one of six states that restricts an individual’s use of pepper spray for self-defense purposes. In Michigan, pepper spray products must be less than 35 grams of product and 2 percent or less oleresin capsicum (pepper spray) concentration. Other restricted states include California, Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin, and Washington DC.
Michigan’s law on the use of pepper spray
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