Powdered alcohol? State lawmakers weigh ban on product [Rep-Am]

April 17, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Republican-American

WINSTED — Teens and alcohol are already a dangerous mix, but now there’s the threat of Palcohol — powdered alcohol. Just add water.

Gilbert School Principal Alan J. Strauss said he can imagine students walking into school toting water bottles filled with a powdered alcohol drink.

“As an educator, accessibility in which you can hide it is what I worry about the most,” Strauss said.

The principal led a roundtable discussion with students about the dangers of Palcohol and e-cigarettes earlier this week.

State lawmakers are looking to make Connecticut the next state in the country to ban the sale of powdered alcohol.

Palcohol was created Mark Phillips of Arizona and his company Lipsmark, which formed last year.

The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau approved Palcohol as a taxable retail product just last month, but some state bans are going into effect before Palcohol even hits stores this summer.

On his company website, Phillips said he is soliciting support to stop the momentum of states looking to ban his product.

“All the hysteria about the dangers of Palcohol are unfounded, and anyone who makes those claims is either ignorant or just being untruthful to promote their own agenda,” he said.

Connecticut’s legislative general law committee voted unanimously in February for a bill entitled “an act prohibiting the sale of powdered alcohol.” The bill, now merged with several other proposed but unrelated changes to the Liquor Control Act, awaits a vote by the Senate.

Anyone caught purchasing or possessing powdered alcohol would be fined $100 on the first offense, $250 on the second and $500 for three or more violations. Sellers would face fines of $250, $500 and $1,000, respectively.

Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, introduced the original bill.

“There are still many unknowns about this product,” McLachlan testified before the general law committee. “A real fear is that alcohol in powdered form makes it more readily available to teens and adults under the age of 21.”

Alaska, California, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina and Vermont already have banned powdered alcohol. Lamakers in about 30 other states have introduced similar bills this year, saying they fear the product will make it easier for minors to abuse booze.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board also recently decided to prohibit the sale of powdered alcohol, and the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverages Control Commission has advised that it will be illegal to import, manufacture or sell powdered alcohol in the Bay State.

New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Colorado are among some of the other states considering similar bans.

Sen. Kevin D. Witkos, R-Canton, represents Winsted and is a member of the general law committee. He said powdered alcohol’s risks extend to other methods of consumption.

“There are concerns about the risks associated with people potentially trying to snort or inhale the powder,” Witkos said.

Peter Faulk, founder of the Connecticut-based nonprofit Sober World, compares Palcohol to Kool Aid, with its fruity flavors that only require five ounces of water to turn the powder into a tasty alcoholic beverage. He said Palcohol could be compressed and put into capsules, which then could be added to drinks.

“Those people seriously addicted to alcohol can easily ingest it at work and not smell,” he said. “Law enforcement will be much tougher. There are so many ways to use this powdered form in products not intended.”

The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Connecticut, a trade association with 53 members, also supports the ban. The group cites Palcohol’s initial marketing pitch about the powder’s ease of concealment and use as an intoxicating food additive.

“Is Connecticut about to add eating or snorting powdered booze to the list of ways kids get drunk?” asked Peter A. Berdon, the association’s executive director and general counsel.

Another supporter of the ban is Pamela Mautte, director of the Greater Valley Substance Abuse Action Council in Ansonia. She said the powder can easily be brought into schools, concert venues, sports arenas and movie theaters.

“I have heard and seen the consequences of underage drinking,” Mautte said. “We need to continue to reduce access to these types of substances that are marketed as quick and easy ways to consume alcohol on the go.”

Palcohol is advertising four types of drinks — a cocktail, a cosmopolitan, a vodka and a Puerto Rican rum.

Phillips said Palcohol is too painful to snort, takes too long to dissolve for inconspicuously spiking drinks and can only be sold to adults age 21 and up. Also, a shot of powdered alcohol is four times greater than the volume of a liquid shot, so it’s not easier to conceal, he said.

There also will be an industrial, nonconsumption version of Palcohol, which could be used in windshield wiper fluid, as an emergency fuel or as an antiseptic, he said.