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Controversy Still Swirls Around 'Palcohol' Despite Federal Approval

States still have the final word and, citing potential abuse by minors, some may say "no."

by Arijeta Lajka
Mar 12 2015, 10:10pm

Photo by Flickr User Alan Levine

Tired of carrying around that heavy bottle of liquid for evening cocktails after a long day's hike? Well, makers of "Palcohol," or powdered alcohol, are hoping their product will be available to you this summer.

On Tuesday, Lipsmark LLC, a private company that owns Palcohol, announced on Palcohol.com, that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has approved its product for sale in the US.

But it's not simply a matter of stocking the shelves. The product has New York Senator Chuck Schumer protesting loudly, and some states, such as Colorado—where marijuana was legalized not long ago—have already attempted to ban Palcohol over concerns it would lead minors to abuse the product and could easily be smuggled into sports stadiums, concert venues, even schools.

A "professional wine swallower" is how Mark Phillips, the president of Lipsmark and creator of Palcohol, describes himself. The idea to create Palcohol came about when Phillips didn't want to lug around heavy bottles of alcohol with him during outdoor adventures, so he contacted scientists to help him create portable powdered alcohol that only needed water.

This isn't the first time Palcohol has come before the TTB, with the TTB in April 2014 approving and then revoking its approval. Tom Hogue, the TTB's director of congressional and public affairs, told VICE News last year that the label approvals for Palcohol had been issued in error.

Related: You Won't Be Drinking Powdered Alcohol Anytime Soon

On Wednesday, Hogue announced that the problems were resolved, and four different flavors—Cosmopolitan, a Margarita called Powderita, and plain old vodka and rum—were approved. A Lemon Drop drop flavor is expected soon, but has not been approved yet.

Eighty calories per bag, and for the three cocktail flavors—Cosmopolitan, Powderita, and Lemon Drop—all consumers need to do is "add water to these three flavors for an instant cocktail," the website claims.

But all this doesn't mean you can visit your local liquor store shelves soon and stock up. Palcohol may still run into some trouble with states, since they have the final say on whether the product will be distributed within their borders. Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina and Vermont have already banned powdered alcohol, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Phillips isn't the first to develop powdered alcohol. Back in the 1970s, in the U.S., General Foods attempted to create powdered alcohol, but failed. In 2007, the Netherlands developed a substance called Booz2Go; the government said it would not stop the product from being sold in the market, but several years later it has yet to be featured in a commercial.

The German version of Palcohol, called Subyou, was released in 2005. It spent some time being sold in gas stations and convenience stores, but disappeared after a while.

Colorado State Representative JoAnn Windholz, R-Commerce City, the sponsor of the Colorado legislation, told VICE News, "At the very beginning, we were concerned about the safety around children, the product can be easily used and disguised."

"It's a substance, a health and safety factor that needs to have some guidelines. If and when it was passed, or certified, and now that it has been, we're hoping to have the appropriate guidelines. We hope that it will not be abused," she added.

Another critic of Palcohol, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told CBS News This Morning that consuming the powdered substance could be a health hazard.

"When you drink regular alcohol, beer, wine, hard liquor, it's in liquid form -- you can't ingest that much that quickly. But when it's powdered form, you can ingest a whole lot and do real damage to yourself," Schumer said.

Schumer also emphasized that the product is particularly marketed toward youth.

"Some of the companies that have advertised this, have advertised it directly to kids, have advertised it in ways that don't have any intent other than to have people ingest a whole lot of alcohol quickly," he added.

In a rare media appearance, Phillips responded to critics who claimed Palcohol could be snorted.

"It really burns to snort it. Really uncomfortable. Because it's alcohol. As you would if you sniffed liquid vodka -- it would burn like crazy," Phillips said on CBS. "There is nothing pleasant about it."

Robert Lehrman—the principal attorney for Lehrman Beverage Law, a law firm that specializes in the regulation of beverages that fall under a broad array of rules and regulations—told VICE News, "In most states, it's mandatory to sell spirits through a licensed wholesaler; many of these are big and conservative businesses with a lot invested in the status quo. It's hard to imagine a state agency being quick to put this in stores."

In response to potential state bans, Palcohol's website says that banning the powdered product will only result in a black market, making it easier for youngsters to obtain it, and that there shouldn't be a double standard to approving the product because of potential abuses.

"If you want to try Palcohol, you need to contact your legislators to tell them you don't need the government to be our nanny. We're big boys and girls and can decide for ourselves if we want to use alcohol...," the company states.

Phillips, who could not be reached for comment by VICE News this week, told VICE News last year that Palcohol primarily offers convenience to the consumer.

"It's a great convenience for the person involved in activities where weight and bulk is a factor, like hiking, backpacking, etc.," he said. "One package weighs about an ounce and is small enough to fit into any pocket."

As for the taste of a Powderita? Or Palcohol's version of the Cosmopolitan, for sophisticated sippers? The website invites interested parties to join the mailing list, but notes it will not be sending out samples. Nor have prices been set.