Alcohol-related offenses like drunk-driving and underage drinking are common in the US. On average, two out of three people will be involved in a DWI crash in their lifetime, and one in six teenagers binge drinks. Recently, a new concern has emerged that such alcohol-related incidents may rise due to a new product on the market called powdered alcohol.
Branded as Palcohol, this new form of alcohol is packaged in one-ounce packets with flavors such as vodka and rum. The powder can then be mixed with water to resemble conventional alcoholic beverages.
Powdered alcohol has had quite a journey in getting an approval for commercial sale. Last year, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved the product, only to retract this approval later as a “mistake.” But this March, the TTB again approved the commercial sale of Palcohol, and the product is now well on its way to store shelves, just in time for the summer.
The approval is not without objections and criticisms. Last fall, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced a bill to federally ban the product, though his bill is still in Senate committee. The senator also indicated that he will create a new bill to make the production, sale, and possession of powdered alcohol illegal.
Since the buzz started last year, several states have begun banning powdered alcohol, while some others are considering doing the same. In Minnesota, Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) is pushing for a temporary Palcohol ban to let the Commissioner of Health study the substance before it becomes publicly available.
The concern around this product arises from the fact that it is more convenient than its beverage counterpart – it has been described as “alcohol you can take anywhere.” Concerned legislators and public agencies say this could allow consumers to sneak powdered drinks into places where they are not allowed, such as sporting events. Public venues like those typically ban alcohol to prevent drunk-driving among attendees, but spectators could sneak in powdered alcohol sachets and mix them with water or soda.
Because of Palcohol’s convenience, it could also be easily accessible to underage drinkers. Even more, critics worry that drinkers might experiment mixing powdered alcohol with liquid alcohol, creating “supercharged” concoctions that may potentially lead to alcohol poisoning.
But Palcohol supporters say these are imagined consequences, not facts, and that officials are overreacting based on these assumptions. Powdered alcohol is not yet available to consumers, so there is yet no authoritative examination of how people are consuming the product.
The supporters also point out that alcohol-related issues are no more likely to occur with powdered alcohol than with regular alcohol. In fact, powdered alcohol will be regulated and sold just like regular alcoholic beverages.
According to the Palcohol website, inventor Mark Phillips came up with the product so he could conveniently bring alcohol when he is outdoors hiking, biking, or kayaking. The website also outlines why banning the product would be an unwise move: it points out that a ban would mean that the government would have no control over the distribution of the product, and would have to spend money to enforce the ban.
As for misuse and abuse of the product, their website argues that powdered alcohol is more difficult to misuse than liquid alcohol. In addition, unregulated powdered alcohol would be easier to obtain because it would likely be sold on the street instead of in liquor stores.