Should Powdered Booze Take a Powder?
For those who won't go on long hikes because they can't take their six-pack of brew with them, there's a solution at hand. A new product, called Palcohol, provides a powder than can be reconstituted into alcoholic beverages. In fact, the manufacturer touts the ability to pack Palcohol in the wilderness as one of the main selling points. According to the website, "Mark [the inventor of Palcohol] is an active guy...hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, etc. After hours of an activity, he sometimes wanted to relax and enjoy a refreshing adult beverage. But those activities, and many others, don't lend themselves to lugging heavy bottles of wine, beer or spirits. ..So he thought? Wouldn't it be great to have alcohol in powder form so all one had to do is add water?"1
Apparently, such prose won over the hearts of the feds, because Palcohol was just officially cleared for sale in the US by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.2
Unfortunately, other than for providing portability in the sticks, the stuff has little else to recommend it. In fact, many fear that it's a dangerous disaster waiting to happen, and four states (Louisiana, Vermont, South Carolina, and Alaska) have already banned it in advance of it hitting the shelves. Other states (New York, Virginia, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania) have pending legislation to ban it as well.3
Palcohol will come in little metallic pouches, much like fizzy kid's drinks. The company plans on releasing five flavors. First, there's straight up Vodka distilled four times. Then there's straight Puerto Rican Rum, Cosmopolitan powder, Margarita, and lemon drop. Just add six ounces of water (or your favorite mixer) and voila! You've got an instant cocktail, with alcohol content equivalent to an average six-ounce drink. Other than the alcoholic content of the powder, it may contain natural flavorings and Sucralose, too, depending on the mix chosen.
So what's the problem with this miracle entertainment/thirst quencher in a baggie? First of all, the company made a huge faux pas when first introducing its product. The original website actually suggested that buyers could sneak alcohol powder into stadium events to avoid paying the high price of beverages sold in the stands. Worse, it boasted that Palcohol could be snorted to get drunk 'almost instantly.' And it suggested a host of culinary applications, like sprinkling the powder on eggs to create vodka and rum on an egg sandwich.
It's the "instant high" assertion that has health officials (and morality arbiters) worried. They fear that people will add the powder to their cocktails to increase the alcohol content, raising the alcohol level to a dangerous degree. They also worry about the potential for spiking drinks on the sly. And yes, since the company itself planted the idea, there's fear that people will snort the powder or worse, inject it.
Senator Chuck Shumer of New York no doubt speaks for many of the critics: "I am in total disbelief that our federal government has approved such an obviously dangerous product," he said. "Underage alcohol abuse is a growing epidemic with tragic consequences and powdered alcohol could exacerbate this. We simply can't sit back and wait for powdered alcohol to hit store shelves across the country, potentially causing more alcohol-related hospitalizations and God forbid, deaths."4
The company president, Mark Phillips, dismisses these concerns, in spite of his earlier website posts. He notes that Palcohol has plenty of untapped potential. "We've had many medical people contact us about using it as an antiseptic, especially in remote locations," he says. The website mentions that "Several companies have contacted us about using powdered alcohol in their business." For instance, one company is exploring using it in windshield wiper fluid. Then, there's the possibility of using it for fuel. Drivers could carry a few pouches in their cars and if they ran out of gas, they'd have an emergency fuel source, without even having to dial triple A. Plus, says the website, "There is talk of multiple military applications from transport fuel to fuel in a soldier's backpack."
But those who oppose Palcohol hardly care that one day in the future you might be able to pour it into your gas tank. They're worried about the snorters and shooters who may abuse it, since alcohol abuse already is such a huge problem. They worry that kids will sprinkle their bologna sandwiches with rum, undetected, at lunch, or that they'll spill several packets into one glass to increase the alcohol content, without anyone knowing.5
Phillips has an answer for at least some of those concerns. He says that no sane person would snort Palcohol because it burns terribly and it would take 60 minutes of snorting to get the equivalent of one shot of vodka. He says it won't get used to spike drinks because it takes a full minute to dissolve; it would be easier to just pour liquid alcohol into the drink. Kids won't be able to abuse it because it will only be sold to those over the age of 21.
In fact, says Phillips, banning Palcohol "would be irresponsible" because it would "create a black market" and "deny states substantial tax revenues," among other things.6 He blames the alcohol lobby for the pressure to ban his product, noting that they don't want competition. And to be fair, this is not a new concept. Similar products have already been on the market for over half a decade in other countries, including Japan and the Netherlands--and no major problems, beyond those normally found with alcoholic beverages, have surfaced as yet. It also should be noted that Phillips is not necessarily wrong concerning the alcohol lobby; it has significant influence on Congress.7
The bottom line for the opponents, though, is that we already have enough trouble with liquid alcohol, so why multiply the problem by introducing a hot new product? "Liquid alcohol is already the most abused substance in the nation, with great human and economic cost," says Constance Scharff, Ph.D., Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research at Cliffside Malibu treatment center. "I can't see how powdered alcohol can do anything but add to the cost of alcohol abuse, hurting both the economy and adding to human suffering."
- 1. http://www.palcohol.com/f.a.q..html
- 2. Walton, Alice G. "Powdered Alcohol 'Palcohol' Sounds Like An Accident Waiting ToHappen." 13 March 2015. Forbes. 13 March 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/03/13/powdered-alcohol-palcohol-sounds-like-an-accident-waiting-to-happen/
- 3. Smith, Aaron. "Powdered alcohol gets OK."CNN Money. 13 March 2015. http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/12/smallbusiness/palcohol-powdered-alcohol/
- 4. 12 March 2015. http://www.schumer.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/after-feds-give-green-light-to-dangerous-powdered-alcohol_palcohol--schumer-introduces-legislation-to-make-substance-illegal-and-keep-it-from-hitting-store-shelves-as-soon-as-this-summer
- 5. Grisham, Lori. "What you need to know about powdered alcohol." 12 March 2015. USA Today. 13 March 2015. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/03/12/palcohol-powdered-alcohol/70198862/
- 6. "Palcohol is Powdered Alcohol." Palcohol.com. (Accessed 14 Mar 2015.) http://www.palcohol.com/
- 7. "Beer, Wine & Liquor: Money to Congress." Center for Responsive Politics. 2014. (Accessed 14 Mar 2015.) http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/summary.php?cycle=2014&ind=N02