A powdered form of liquor called Palcohol that can turn water into a cocktail? First thought: Astronaut buzz? Second thought: Who would want to replace a regular margarita with a “Powderita” and why?
It’s the second question that remains unanswered and has alarmed parents, public health officials and addiction treatment doctors, who swiftly rattled off the top three reasons Palcohol is a bad idea.
But first, how significant is the concern and what exactly is powdered alcohol? While underage drinking is at a historic low, according to the 2013 annual U.S. study of 50,000 youths, it persists: 10 percent of 8th-graders, 26 percent of 10th-graders, and 39 percent of 12th-graders reported drinking alcohol in the 30 days before the survey.
“Adolescents’ and young adults’ brains are not developed enough to think through to the consequences that may follow with a quick, easily concealable high,” observed Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, director of young adult programs at Promises, an Promises Behavioral Health center in Malibu. “And those who just want to experiment might not end up living through that experiment.”
What Is Powdered Alcohol?
According to its Arizona-based promoter Lipsmark LLC, the product is lightweight and powdered to be mixed with water. The result, it states, is reconstituted rum, vodka or four drink varieties: a mojito, a cosmopolitan, a lemon drop or margarita. According to Palcohol promoter Mark Phillips, Palcohol carries the same alcohol content as standard liquor but weighs no more than an ounce per packet; it was created for the person concerned about lugging weighty booze bottles hiking or backpacking.
Palcohol burst into view only days ago, after its application for labeling was approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), an arm of the U.S. Justice Department. A website called BevLaw for specialty attorneys continues to report developments. But it was widely erroneously reported that the TTB approved the product rather than packaging, and a firestorm of news coverage followed. The TTB two weeks later rescinded the approval it said was made “in error.”
Fortune magazine reported that attention was fueled by now-cached versions of earlier web pages strongly suggesting that Palcohol was useful for concealing and sneaking alcohol where it didn’t belong — claims Phillips told the magazine were attempts at “edgy” marketing. At Palcohol.com, since-removed suggestions for flavoring food — start your day with booze sprinkled on your eggs — were later reworded amid the scorching news attention. The TTB is largely involved for taxation purposes and it is the 50 states that would ultimately clear it, doubters noted. Legislators in several states have already vowed to ban such products.
Unknown are the ingredients that creator Philips says he’s withholding while his patent application is pending. Skeptics say Palcohol’s chances are daunting given failed prior powdered alcohol attempts; they include a 1972 General Mills version by the inventor of Pop Rocks and Tang ditched as too sugary. Fortune reported another attempt by students in the Netherlands called Booze2Go, fate unknown. Phillips vowed nonetheless to reapply for TTB approval and aims to have the product to market by fall.
Three Reasons Palcohol Is a Bad Idea
Ogle, the young addict specialist, views the planned product grimly.
“I am saddened by even a temporary approval, and cannot imagine why the statistics of underage drinking and alcohol fatalities don’t seem to have been taken into consideration,” she said. Ogle predicted that a powdered booze on the market “will easily double” underage drinking and fatalities. I am terrified to see an increase in accidental overdoses with Palcohol.”
She offered the following “three reasons I think Palcohol is a bad idea:
- The fact that it is in powder form means users can snort it or shoot it, both delivery methods to reach a faster intoxication. This can and will be deadly. If we all used things as prescribed or recommended, we might be OK. However, young adults and teenagers believe they know a better way to use adult items.
- The ability to hide a powder will make it easier for underage people to carry and add it to whatever they wish. We are already at a loss as to how to curb the amount of underage drinking. In my opinion, this will increase the accessibility and allure of trying something new, along with the mere fact that it will be easily hidden. Gone will be the days of trying to hide a bottle. They can and will easily hide a powder.
- I am also concerned about the ability to “spike” others’ drinks. A powder makes this easier than pouring from a bottle.”
Fans of the powdered booze concept note that anything can be abused with proper intent.
And the Powderita creator is unswayed. He reports on his website that beyond cocktail drinks and food, other uses have surfaced recently: Restaurants in Hawaii and airlines are interested in the powdered alcohol replacing the high shipping costs of bottled liquor and that an industrial company wants to use it as a cleaner, he said. He shrugged off the TTB label rejection as temporary.
“We have been in touch with the TTB and there seemed to be a discrepancy on our fill level, how much powder is in the bag,” Phillips explained on his website. “There was a mutual agreement for us to surrender the labels. This doesn’t mean that Palcohol isn’t approved. It just means that these labels aren’t approved. We will re-submit labels. We don’t have an expected approval date as label approval can vary widely.”
Fears that users might not sip but would be snorting the product and smuggling it into alcohol-free spots was addressed briefly: “Our concern is to promote the responsible and legal use of the product,” Phillips said.
In an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, a recent George Washington University graduate urged against a ban on Palcohol, noting that it would curb innovation and should be allowed but taxed.
“Undoubtedly, it is the role of government to promote growth, not deter it,” wrote Johannes Schmidt, the graduate now working for the Liberty Movement. “Palcohol is certainly an exciting product, and we can only hope that regulation won’t stop us from turning water into a Powderita sometime in the near future.”
More about underage drinking statistics is available at the Centers for Disease Control: CDC FAQ on underage drinking.