People will abuse powdered alcohol, OH lawmakers say


By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

PALCOHOL: In a YouTube video, Palcohol inventor Mark Phillips shows how the product works and addresses what he calls the “completely false” claims about his product.

We have powdered coffees, powdered juices, powdered soups, powdered eggs, powdered milk.

Why not powdered alcohol? After all, it’s light, portable and convenient.

But we’ll abuse it, two Ohio lawmakers say.

Reps. Ron Gerberry, D-Austintown, and Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, introduced House Bill 594 to prohibit the sale of powdered or crystalline alcohol in Ohio.

Alaska and South Carolina have already banned the substance while New York, Vermont and Minnesota have pending legislation to do the same.

“The potential for abuse of this product far outweighs any value it may have in the marketplace,” Gerberry said in a news release.

“The public health risk of powdered alcohol is too great for our state to ignore,” Buchy said in the same release. “We have to do our part in putting forth reasonable laws that protect our children and prevent the availability of drug forms that have a higher potential for abuse.”

Their concerns mirror those of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban it.

In April, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates taxing and labeling of alcohol products, approved seven flavors of Palcohol. They then temporarily rescinded those approvals due to a technical issue with the package fill levels. Palcohol made some changes and resubmitted the labels for approval.

According to Schumer, the FDA supersedes the TTB approval in the presence of significant health concerns.

He said “experts” should “step in before this mind-boggling product, surely to become the Kool-Aid of teen binge drinking, sees the light of day” and “stop this potentially deadly product in its tracks” to avoid the “hospitalizations and death that are likely to follow.”

Nonsense, says its inventor.

According to the Palcohol website, Mark Phillips does a lot of camping, hiking and biking, but he didn’t want to lug around heavy bottles of alcohol. “Wouldn’t it be great to have alcohol in powder form so all one had to do is add water?” he asked.

But there wasn’t anything like that on the market, so Phillips invented it.

Gerberry doesn’t think the product belongs on the shelves in Ohio stores. He thinks the lightweight packets could be easily concealed and smuggled into places where alcohol is prohibited — school events, for example. He also thinks it could be “snorted through the nose to get an intense high.”

Not so, says the Palcohol website. It claims snorting the product would be painful — because it’s alcohol — and impractical — as it takes about 60 minutes to snort the equivalent of one shot of vodka. Why would someone do that when they can drink a shot of liquid vodka in two seconds, the website asks.

But Buchy disagreed.

“Drug abusers will snort anything they think they can get a high from,” he said. “Who are they kidding?”

For Buchy, it’s a philosophical issue, and one of expanded opportunity for abuse.

“We have a tremendous alcohol and drug problem in America and in Ohio,” he said. “Last year we spent $3.5 billion of state money for drug treatment. Why do we want to add more options to get into trouble with alcohol and drug abuse?”

Lipsmark LLC, the owner of Palcohol, intends it to be sold only in liquor stores and only to those of legal drinking age. They believe it should be treated, regulated and taxed just like liquid alcohol.

But Buchy thinks the form will make it easier to abuse and use illegally.

“What makes this more onerous is that it’s a powdered form that can be concentrated,” he said. “You can take two or three packets and put them into water to make the dosage stronger.”

Gary Robinson, regulatory counsel for Lipsmark, the maker of Palcohol, said attempts to ban it are “misguided.”

“It has numerous benefits that seriously should be considered before any agency or legislative body contemplates an outright ban on this product,” he said in letter posted on the company website. “Simply because it is a novel product does not mean that it should be prohibited.”

Robinson notes that the regulatory process for alcoholic beverages is extremely robust and “perfectly capable of regulating the product.” California already regulates powdered alcohol, he said, and any unforeseen regulatory issues can be dealt with just like other industry innovations — Internet wine sales, for example.

But Buchy didn’t think California is an example Ohio should emulate.

“California has a terrific track record of having the worst behavior in the world,” he said. “Why would we want to follow that?”

Saying he didn’t want to take a chance with an unproven product, Buchy emphasized the goal of the bill is to put the product in a “holding pattern.”

“We want to stop the proceedings until we find out if all the positive claims the manufacturer is making are true,” he said.

He estimated that two or three years of a track record should be enough of a test, if the product is approved by the federal government.

“If it’s going to be a popular item and if people can get it and show if the claims the manufacturer made are true, I see that it could be legal in Ohio,” Buchy added.

In his letter to Schumer, Robinson said “irresponsible people can misuse and abuse any legal product, but that is not reason alone to ban it.” He said the company’s plan to educate legislators, regulators and consumers would go a long way toward promoting the responsible use of Palcohol.

But Buchy isn’t sold.

“Why should we give (people) more opportunities to be irresponsible,” he asked. “We’ve got enough ways for people who are not responsible to abuse things, why give them another option? Why invite more trouble?”

HB 594 was introduced Monday and has not yet been assigned to a committee.