Alcohol producers have discovered another way for partyers to get buzzed. But public health officials and lawmakers, concerned about the safety of teens and young adults, are scrambling to take a newly approved product off the market.
On Thursday, Maryland lawmakers further advanced legislation that would place a temporary ban on powdered alcohol. Texas, Illinois, Oregon and a host of other states are trying to do the same to head off the sale of a product that is expected to hit the market this summer.
“As a public health leader, emergency physician and mother of three, I must say powdered alcohol is my worst nightmare,” Joneigh S. Khaldun, the Baltimore City Health Department’s chief medical officer, said Thursday during a hearing in Annapolis on legislation that would ban the sale of powdered alcohol in Maryland for two years. “It’s basically alcoholic Tang.”
And, Khaldun pointed out, alcoholic Tang could be quite appealing to teenagers who already drink too much alcohol. Other public health officials have suggested people might abuse the product by adding alcohol to food or spiking an unsuspecting person’s drink. And, of course, some might even snort the powder.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, says Mark Phillips, creator of a powdered alcohol called Palcohol.
“They don’t understand what they are doing,” Phillips said of lawmakers in Maryland and the other states that are considering a ban. “They don’t understand the product.”
Here’s how Phillips describes powdered alcohol on his company Web site: “Imagine a Margarita on a counter. And then imagine if you could snap your fingers and it would turn into powder. That’s Palcohol . . . without the magic.”
Phillips said he plans to sell the powder for about $4 a drink, packaged in a foil pouch that doubles as a glass. Consumers pour in five ounces of water, zip up the pouch and shake.
Who would drink this freeze-dried creation? Phillips offers these possibilities: Hikers, campers and outdoorsy types would likely rather carry powdered alcohol than a much-heavier bottle of booze. It could also be a lighter-weight option for airlines or island resorts that import all of their alcohol. The powder could also become a lightweight fuel source, medical antiseptic or, no joke, an additive to windshield wiper fluid.
On March 10, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the sale of four Palcohol products — vodka, rum, cosmopolitan and “Powderita,” similar to a margarita.
Within two days, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced federal legislation to ban the production, sale and possession of powdered alcohol, which he called “Kool-Aid for underage drinking.”
“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,” Schumer said in a statement.
While Palcohol’s current Web site focuses on the product’s innovative potential, Schumer noted that the original site “brazenly suggested” uses such as illegally bringing Palcohol to stadium events to avoid overpriced drinks, sprinkling vodka on breakfast eggs or snorting it to get drunk “almost instantly.”
Phillips said that people will snort anything — even black pepper – but that doesn’t justify a ban. He added that it’s much easier to get drunk chugging liquid shots than trying to snort up a pile of powder.
In Maryland, Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) brokered an agreement with the associations representing alcohol distributors and wholesalers, who volunteered to not sell powdered alcohol in the state — similar to a voluntary ban in 2010 of formerly caffeinated alcoholic beverages like Four Loko.
The Maryland Senate version of the bill to ban powdered alcohol calls for a two-year moratorium, while the House of Delegates version calls for a 13-month ban. Both bills have been flying through the legislative process, and some version is expected to pass before the session ends April 13.