Pennsylvania, Congress consider banning powdered alcohol
Mark Phillips’ dream of hikers and kayakers carrying pouches of powdered alcohol for a stiff end-of-adventure drink may never get off the ground.
More than a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, are making moves to ban Palcohol, single-serving pouches of powdered alcoholic drinks, before they hit the market.
If the product receives federal approval, Palcohol (a combination of the words “powdered” and “alcohol”) could come in a variety of flavors, from one-shot servings of rum or vodka to cocktails such as cosmopolitans, lemon drop martinis and margaritas. Drinkers add 5 ounces of water to the pouch, seal it and shake it for about 30 seconds to create the drink.
“When I hike, kayak, backpack, whatever, I like to have a drink when I reach my destination,” said Phillips, Palcohol’s founder, in a website video message. “Why would anyone want to enact Prohibition-like measures to take away our rights to enjoy this wonderful product in a responsible and legal manner?”
Palcohol is struggling to combat a narrative by opponents from Alaska to Florida that the powdered drink mix could get users high by snorting it, enable drinkers to get drunk too quickly or land more easily in the hands of children and teens.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is expected to discuss the issue of powdered alcohol at its meeting Wednesday.
The company has not submitted samples or documents to the agency to begin the product approval process, LCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman said. Because the pouches contain liquor, they could be sold only in state stores.
“We have been keeping a close watch on Palcohol since last year but, as you know, it does not yet have federal approval,” Kriedeman said. “The board has concerns about this product based on the information we currently have and they plan to address it at an upcoming meeting.”
The company vehemently denies the negative claims in a defensive screed on its website home page.
But that didn’t stop Alaska, California, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina and Vermont from banning the product. And last fall, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced federal legislation to prohibit making, selling or using powdered alcohol.
At least 10 other state legislatures are considering bans.
Pennsylvania Sen. Shirley Kitchen, D-Philadelphia, is circulating a memo to lawmakers to drum up interest in her plan to ban Palcohol here. She’s drafting the legislation but said the bill would amend the state Liquor Code to prohibit the sale of powdered alcohol.
“One of the major problems is that it’s being marketed as a way to be able to transport liquor in a more efficient way and lighter way because it’s much easier to carry (than bottles),” Kitchen said. “You can virtually just fit it anywhere. … This is going to make it a nightmare for kids.”
Kitchen, a former social worker, said her office will work with the LCB, which must approve Palcohol as it must any other alcoholic beverage before it can be sold in Pennsylvania. But she would prefer the ban become part of state law rather than being left to the discretion of the LCB.
“We intend to push this because I see this as a major problem,” Kitchen said.
Some lawmakers say they’d prefer to see how the issue plays out — whether it receives final federal approval and whether the LCB takes action.
“It’s kind of hard to legislate something that doesn’t officially exist yet,” said Sen. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, the ranking Democrat on the House Liquor Control Committee. Still, he concedes, the product is dangerous.
“People could just load their pockets with those (pouches),” Costa said.
Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Delmont, who serves on the House committee, said Palcohol has only recently become an issue.
“I think we need to just monitor it before we make any decision. I don’t see any immediate need to go off and … ban it preemptively,” Krieger said. “I’m certainly open to legislation if it looks like it’s necessary, but at this point it seems like it’s highly unlikely.”
Palcohol garnered approval from the Food and Drug Administration and — very briefly — from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which signed off on the packaging in April.
The Tax and Trade Bureau rescinded its approval two weeks later, and the company has submitted new labels. A second approval is pending, Palcohol spokeswoman Lynne Barbour said.
Palcohol’s website says the product is expected to debut this spring, but a date depends on label approval, Barbour said.
A spokesman for the Tax and Trade Bureau did not return a call seeking comment.
Barbour said the company has not approached any states yet about carrying the drink pouches and prices have not been set.
“It would be premature to approach any state without federal approval,” Barbour said.
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or email@example.com.