Officials raise concerns about powdered alcohol

Last modified: 4/29/2015 12:17:56 AM
Pour an ounce of powder into a glass of water, stir it up, and get an instant cosmopolitan or lemon drop.

That’s the idea behind a new powdered alcohol product, known as Palcohol.

But don’t expect to purchase it in New Hampshire. Officials have raised concerns about the powdered alcohol, which they say is ripe for abuse, easily concealed and could get people drunk faster. 

The Liquor Commission doesn’t plan to sell Palcohol in stores. And lawmakers are considering the creation of a committee to study whether the sale of powdered alcohol should be banned outright or regulated in New Hampshire. The committee would report its finding by Nov. 1, if a bill is signed into law. 

Legislatures across the country have had similar skeptical reactions to the product, invented by Mark Phillips and set to be available this summer. 

Phillips argues many of the concerns are unfounded and says that liquid alcohol is a bigger threat to public safety than Palcohol. 

An active hiker and biker, Phillips was interested in creating a powdered form of alcohol that would be light, compact and easy to carry in a backpack, according to the Palcohol website. Phillips was not available for comment. 

The powdered alcohol product comes in 1-ounce pouches and can be mixed into liquid to make vodka, rum or three kinds of cocktails that include cosmopolitan, a type of margarita called a “powderita,” or lemon drop, according to the website. Palcohol, owned by Lipsmark LLC, is patent pending.

In March, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the product for sale. States can impose their own regulations on the product. 

As of last month, several states including Louisiana, Virginia and Vermont had passed legislation prohibiting the sale of powered alcohol, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Dozens more are considering legislation this year that would regulate or limit sales of Palcohol. 

Since the product is 10 percent alcohol by volume, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission has jurisdiction over it and doesn’t intend to allow it in the state, said James Wilson, director of enforcement and licensing at the commission. Wilson has been tracking the product for the past year, keeping a binder full of article clippings on Palcohol, he said. 

A few years ago, Phillips said the product could be sprinkled on guacamole, among other uses, according to the New York Times.

Those types of suggestions raised flags in law enforcement and public health circles, Wilson said. The commission is advocating for a ban on the product. 

Health organizations, including New Futures, have raised concerns that the product could be easily abused by minors, snorted or added to alcoholic beverages to increase the strength of the drink. 

“Our main concern is it’s possible this product may make it easier to consume alcohol more quickly,” said Sarah Sadowski of New Futures, an advocacy group that focuses on substance abuse. “This is a very new product, and I think there are enough public health concerns surrounding it, it needs to be studied before being released this summer.”

The restaurant industry also raised concerns about powdered alcohol and potential liability issues.

“In the world of liquor liability, if someone leaves your establishment intoxicated, normally you as a licensee are held responsible,” said Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. It’s unclear who would be held responsible, he said, if an underage couple isn’t served liquor at a restaurant but consumes powdered alcohol dissolved in a drink. “There are a whole variety of things that could potentially play out.”

Palcohol opposes a ban, a company spokeswoman said in an email. “We would love to sell Palcohol in New Hampshire once we find out what the legislature decides,” the spokeswoman wrote.

In a written statement, Phillips said banning the product is a bad decision because legislators would be limiting consumers’ freedom of choice. He also said curbing access could make the powdered alcohol more appealing to youth. 

He dismisses claims that people will snort Palcohol, saying “you can’t get drunk from snorting powdered alcohol because there’s too much powder and it’s very painful to snort.” He adds that liquid alcohol is easier to conceal and less expensive than his product. 

“This isn’t about powdered alcohol being a public safety threat,” Phillips wrote in a statement on the website. “It’s about the liquor companies protecting their market share and profits.”



(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)




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