Earlier this year, the company behind Palcohol got the approval of the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for its labels -- the last regulatory step before the product could be sold in stores. But states have pushed back, fearing that powdered alcohol will only make underage and binge drinking easier.
The Food and Drug Administration said in March that it does not have legal basis to prevent Palcohol from entering the market because the TTB has the "authority to review the formulation and labeling of distilled spirits products."
The TTB did, however, consult with the FDA about the non-alcohol ingredients in Palcohol.
"The FDA concluded that the use of ingredients in the proposed products was in compliance with FDA’s regulations," the agency said in a statement. "The agency notes that the ingredients used in the products are typical of ingredients found in many processed foods."
After signing legislation banning powdered alcohol sales in New York on Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) noted in a statement that powdered alcohol can lead to unsafe levels of intoxication if it is mixed incorrectly or ingested in its powdered form.
"This dangerous product is a public health disaster waiting to happen,” Cuomo said. “I am proud to sign this legislation that will keep powdered alcohol off the shelves and out of the wrong hands.”
The maker of Palcohol has tried to aggressively counter efforts to block the product before it's even arrived in stores. Creator Mark Phillips argues that powdered alcohol is actually safer than liquid alcohol.
"Palcohol is not some super concentrated version of alcohol. It's simply one shot of alcohol in powdered form," Phillips said in a video explainer of the product. "When I hike, kayak, backpack whatever. I like to have a drink when I reach my destination. Carrying liquid alcohol and mixers in bottles to make a margarita, for example, was totally impractical."
But in 2014, a handful of states began enacting bans on powdered alcohol; other states, including Alaska and Delaware, had pre-existing statutes banning or regulating that form of alcohol. In 2015, the number of states with outright bans has grown to 21: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and now New York. Two states, Maryland and Minnesota, also had temporary bans in place as of June 2015, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
And the fight is probably not over.
Phillips has said that he hopes the product will be available on shelves by the end of summer. On its Web site, his company, Lipsmark LLC, has said attempts to ban the product restrict consumers' freedom of choice while protecting liquor manufacturers.
In March, Sen Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced federal legislation that would ban the sale and possessions of powdered alcohol, which he called the "Kool-Aid for underage drinking.”
“I am in total disbelief that our federal government has approved such an obviously dangerous product, and so, Congress must take matters into its own hands and make powdered alcohol illegal,” Schumer said. "Underage alcohol abuse is a growing epidemic with tragic consequences and powdered alcohol could exacerbate this."
Groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving have said they are concerned about powdered alcohol -- along with other "fad" alcoholic products including alcoholic whipped cream, vapors and even caffeine-laced alcohol -- which, they say, have the potential to appeal to underage drinkers.
“Powdered alcohol is a product with no legitimate reason for being." New York Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz said in a statement Friday. "Kids can stash Palcohol in their pocket when they leave the house for a party, and their parents would never know the difference."
Cymbrowitz, chairman of the New York Assembly's alcoholism and drug abuse committee, added: "I’m pleased that New York has joined the growing number of states to ban the sale of this potentially dangerous product."