Powdered Alcohol: On the Market Soon?
You’d think the idea of dehydrated liquor would only appeal to backpackers and thirsty astronauts — or those who want to sneak alcohol. It’s the latter customer that worries some public officials, parents and addiction treatment experts. Yet the maker of Palcohol, the first powdered alcohol product, has received federal government approval for its packaging and vows to have it on store shelves and available for purchase online by this summer.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau gave the go-ahead to Palcohol, with a spokesman of the company saying that any prior issues, mostly pertaining to labeling, were resolved. It’s been widely reported that the federal agency approved powdered alcohol, but it’s the states that primarily approve alcohol sales.
Beyond just drinking it, the small Arizona company Lipsmark that’s developed Palcohol lists many other applications for it, from reducing shipping costs for heavier liquid booze to using it as antiseptic and fuel. And founder Mark Phillips insists that Palcohol was born from his own wish to be able to more easily tote alcohol along on backpacking trips.
There remain hurdles to sales of these instant cocktails, which are packaged as powdery 1-ounce shots requiring water or another fluid. Many states must approve alcohol sales, and already, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, New York and Ohio are among the states preemptively moving to ban sales of powdered alcohol, The Associated Press reported.
Concerns About Online Sales of Powdered Alcohol
States that have already banned powdered alcohol include Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina and Vermont. Opponents of powdered alcohol fear that the product, which comes in sealed packets, will make it easy to sneak into schools or into public gatherings where sales are forbidden to minors. It’s not yet clear how underage purchases online would be prevented.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York has lambasted the federal government for green-lighting Palcohol. He’s trying to outlaw the sales of this new product and has criticized the federal government for signing off on what he labels “a hyper-portable adult beverage within sneaking reach of young people or those trying to skirt laws.” He’s called Palcohol “the Kool-Aid of teen binge drinking.”
That followed Palcohol’s short-lived approval in 2014, which was swiftly rescinded over labeling in what the company called a technical snag. That initial approval triggered a firestorm of opposition to the product that hasn’t subsided. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) swiftly and publicly opposed Palcohol.
Powdered Booze: Too “Attractive to Youth?”
“This product,” the MADD organization announced on its website, “is the latest in a long list of specialty alcohol fads. We’ve seen vaporized alcohol, whipped-cream alcohol, caffeinated alcohol — and the list goes on. While the form of alcohol might change, the issues remain the same. As with anything ‘new,’ this product may be attractive to youth. In the case of Palcohol, we share Senator Schumer’s view that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should carefully review this product as it would seem to have the potential to increase underage drinking.”
Phillips, looking somewhat incredulous about negative-leaning public response, notes on the product’s website that it would only be sold where standard alcohol is sold, and under the same restrictions: You must be 21 or older to buy or consume it.
“Ignorant About the Truth of Palcohol”
In a 16-minute YouTube video with more than half a million views, Phillips explains that the alarm surrounding Palcohol is a form of hysteria fomented by traditional liquor purveyors, and calls Schumer “completely ignorant about the truth of Palcohol.” He displays a likeness of Palcohol packaging, which is 4 inches by 6 inches tall with “a 2-inch gusset” and weighs an ounce.
Palcohol is designed to be mixed with 6 ounces of fluid. Flavors include vodka, rum and three ready-made ingredients for such cocktails as a cosmopolitan, margarita (“Powderita”) and lemon drop. The package can serve as a makeshift drinking vessel into which fluid can be poured.
Underage drinking is at a historic low, according to the 2014 “Monitoring the Future” study of 50,000 youths, and the number of students reporting any alcohol use in the prior 12 months fell by one-third. Yet adolescent drinking remains a problem: Roughly 1 in 5 12th graders report binge drinking at least once in the prior two weeks.
Teen Drinking Down, but Binge Drinking Persists
Ten percent of 8th graders, 26 percent of 10th graders and 39 percent of 12th graders reported drinking alcohol in the month prior to the “Monitoring the Future” survey.
Those working directly with young people find Palcohol troubling. “Adolescents’ and young adults’ brains are not developed enough to think through to the consequences that may follow with a quick, easily concealable high,” said Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, director of young adult programs at Promises treatment center in Mar Vista, Calif. “And those who just want to experiment might not end up living through that experiment.”
Palcohol Maker Discounts Fears
Phillips insists that concerns about young people’s potential abuse and harm are simply grounded in ignorance about the product. To dispel concerns that Palcohol is dangerous because it’s a concentrated form of alcohol, Phillips pours crystal-like vodka into a glass during his promotional video. He then holds up a shot glass, stressing that there’s no “concentration” of alcohol — that it’s one shot of alcohol compared to the same-strength alcohol, simply in a different form.
“We are so excited to bring Palcohol to the market as it has so many positive uses in medicine, energy, travel, hospitality, manufacturing, commercial use as well as for individuals,” reads the introduction on the product’s website. “Unfortunately, no one seems to understand that. The result is that people who know nothing about Palcohol are calling for its ban. But banning will have undesired consequences. While they think banning it will be helpful, it will actually do more harm than good.” Among his list of reasons is that a ban creates a “forbidden” appeal, much as Prohibition did with liquor.
Even some fans of Phillips’ product note that if it’s not made with 6 ounces of liquid, it would be a more concentrated form of alcohol. Others worry that it might be sprinkled on someone’s food either as a prank or to intentionally disable them, such as date-rape drugs do.
Interestingly, the same concerns don’t seem to be surfacing nearly as much about powdered beer. The original promotion of Palcohol, however, might be to blame. Fortune magazine found that early attention was driven by now-cached versions of early Web pages that suggested Palcohol was good for hiding and sneaking alcohol where it wasn’t allowed, which Phillips told Fortune were efforts at “edgy” marketing.
On Palcohol.com, since-removed suggestions for flavoring food — start your day with booze sprinkled on your eggs, for example — were later reworded amid charged media coverage. Fortune quoted what it called “limp” warnings from the creator: “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: snorting alcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you’ll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.”
By Nancy Wride
Follow Nancy on Twitter at @NWride
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