Alcohol

New York Senate Passes Ban on Powdered Alcohol

Legislators seek to preemptively ban Palcohol citing concerns over underage abuse.

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Politicians ban powdered alcohol for fear kids might snort it.
Wired / YouTube

On Monday, the New York state senate passed a bill that would ban the sale of powdered alcohol.

In March, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the product, known as "palcohol," for sale. Several states have already passed measures banning the sale of powdered alcohol products, and 39 jurisdictions, including New York, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, are trying to do the same

And it's not just state governments seeking to ban the powdered drink mix. Sen. Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) is pushing an "emergency amendment to legislation this week that would make it illegal to produce, sell or possess Palcohol," according to CBS New York.

According to the CBS piece, Schumer claimed alcohol in powdered form "can be used so much more dangerously than if it was a liquid."

Specifically, according to The Washington Post:

Some argue the powder will be easier to sneak into public events and spike people's drinks. Others worry that minors will get their hands on the product and abuse it by snorting it to get high.

Instead of taking the speculation for granted, Brent Rose over at Wired decided to do some empirical testing—on himself (see the full video below). What did he find?

After five minutes of stirring, small clumps of the powder were still visible in the drink he was trying to spike. Even if he'd gotten the powder to dissolve completely, the drink looked markedly different than his control sample. And even if a hypothetical would-be victim didn't notice the newly hazy appearance of her drink, the alcohol content would only have been boosted by the equivalent of a one-ounce shot.

So what about claims that kids will snort palcohol to get a stronger buzz? As Reason columnist Baylen Linnekin argued:

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."

Rose's results reiterated that finding, but with an important addition: "You'd have to do…30 [0.5 gram] lines to get half a shot of alcohol." It's hard to imagine even the most determined teenage miscreant snorting that quantity of a powder that "instantly burns" and quickly clogs the nostrils.

Practical considerations aside, banning a product because of fears that some kids will abuse it is overkill. Linnekin writes:

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.

At least one person has died from an alcohol enema (though it wasn't an underage kid—it was a 58-year-old man), but legislators are suspiciously silent on banning alcohol in liquid form.