Don't Ban Powdered Alcohol

There's no real public safety concern to justify blocking Palcohol.



Last year the federal government's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) gave its approval to the maker of Palcohol, a powdered alcohol product, to market its just-add-water mix.

The agency quickly backtracked, and the approval was "surrendered," to use TTB parlance.

Now the product is back—TTB approved it last month—and set to come to market. It'll come in flavors like rum, margarita, and cosmopolitan.

One of the chief concerns with Palcohol is that young people will snort it. This is impractical. The good people at Vice know this to be true, thanks to one staffer's attempt to do so, which resulted in "the powder turn[ing] straight into glue when it hit [his] sinuses."

The company's founder cautions against snorting the product—though an earlier iteration of the company's website noted one could (but shouldn't) do so—and says you won't get drunk faster from doing so.

Still, that's not enough for Palcohol opponents.

"As with anything 'new,' this product may be attractive to youth," wrote Mothers Against Drunk Driving in a blog post last year after the product was initially approved.

A handful of states and some in Congress aren't happy the product will come to market. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation to ban it nationwide. Schumer warns Palcohol could become "the Kool-Aid of teen binge drinking."

Six states have already banned Palcohol. Other states have considered doing the same.

"The potential for abuse outweighs quite heavily the need for that type of product," said Wisconsin State Sen. Tim Carpenter, who sponsored a bill to ban Palcohol in his state. "It would just make life a lot less complicated if we just didn't go there." Sen. Carpenter, coincidentally, represents Milwaukee, a city known for brewing liquid alcohol products, its baseball team dubbed the Brewers in celebration of that fact.

The problems with banning "new" types of drinks because we don't "need' them and they might make life more "complicated" are legion. A central tenet of food freedom is that adults have a right to consume most any food or drink they want. What's more, life may already be more complicated than lawmakers realize. Frozen and vapor alcohol already exist.

Liquid alcohol isn't always consumed orally. It can be ingested via enemas, poured into one's eye socket, and even, yes, snorted. To me, sensible warnings like "Don't put alcoholic beverages up your butt" is the best way to approach those who consider snorting Palcohol.

I'm teaching a class at American University this semester called The Drinking Age. Our discussion of campus alcohol policies has included frank discussion of the very real dangers of binge drinking, along with parsing a federal government definition of binge drinking—absurdly low, in my opinion—as "a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08."

We've also focused on state and federal alcohol laws. For class this week, we visited the U.S. National Archives to check out The Spirited Republic, a great new exhibit on the history of alcohol regulation in this country. The exhibit was a stark reminder alcohol regulation in America hasn't always gone so well. When it's too strict and puritanical, as in the case of Prohibition, the unintended consequences far outweigh the benefits.

That's a point that Palcohol makes as it fights back against state and federal lawmakers. The word "ban" appears fourteen times on the company's website homepage alongside arguments against doing so, part of an effort to ensure more states don't make the mistake of grounding the product before it ever takes off.

"Listen, people can snort black pepper….so do we ban it?" the Palcohol website asks. "No, just because a few goofballs use a product irresponsibly doesn't mean you ban it."

Palcohol makers are also touting the product's benefits. For example, it can help reduce waste and transport costs by eliminating heavy, bulky packaging.

Do we "need" Palcohol? That's a question consumers should answer with their dollars. One thing I know we don't "need" is another senseless food ban.