LEGAL BRIEFING - Sniff wine for flavor, not high


Dear John,

I heard somewhere that it is illegal to sniff wine. It sounded too strange to be true, but I thought I would ask. If it is illegal, is this only for people below the legal drinking age?


Inhaling Hailey

Dear Hailey,

I have seen many occasions when a person buries the old schnozzle in a glass of wine and pronounces the bouquet fruity, ebullient or musty. It never occurred to me I could be witnessing a crime.

After a little sniffing around in the Washington statutes, I discovered the section of the criminal code that talks about a misdemeanor-level crime for inhaling toxic fumes. Many of us are familiar with the misuse of certain solvents and the tragedy called "huffing." The section of the code I am referring to is the same one: RCW 9.47A.

The statute lists substances containing solvents having the property of releasing toxic vapors or fumes. Among those listed is "ethanol or ethyl alcohol," the component of wine that produces intoxication.

The statute then declares, "it is unlawful for any person to intentionally smell or inhale the fumes of [ethanol] ... for the purpose of causing among other things elation, euphoria or excitement." The people sniffing wine in movies always seem to have those reactions, don't they? Who knew they could be charged with a crime for their actions in Washington. What's more, the statutes apply to everyone regardless of age.

The Walla Walla Valley has many wineries and tasting rooms. I am sure they wouldn't mind causing elation, euphoria or excitement for their wines. Hopefully, visitors will exercise restraint when sniffing ethanol and save stronger reactions for the other components in wine.



John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in