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Mixed opinion on powdered alcohol

BY ALYSSA GUZMAN | APRIL 20, 2015 5:00 AM

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Kool-Aid, Crystal Light, Nesquick, Country Time Lemonade, and now … vodka?

Currently, powdered alcohol — palcahol —  has become a controversy in the United States. So far, it’s been banned in seven states, and it is still awaiting a decision in Iowa.

“I think that the only state in which palcohol stands a chance is in Colorado, where they’re considering legalizing and regulating,” said Robert Bailey, a spokesman for the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division.

At present, a bill banning powdered alcohol has cleared in the Iowa Senate, and an identical bill is in the House.

“It concerns me that there is a proposed ban of powdered alcohol denying millions of responsible adults and hundreds of businesses a chance to use this legal, safe, and revolutionary new product that has applications in medicine, energy, hospitality, the military, manufacturing, etc., as well as reducing the carbon footprint by being so much lighter to ship than liquid alcohol,” wrote Mark Phillips, the creator of palcahol, in an email. His company is called Palcohol.

There are lots of concerns about alcohol in powdered form, which include easier accessibility for youth to sneak it around, mixing it with beverages that already contain alcohol to increase the potency, and taking it by snorting it.

Phillips wrote in an email that snorting palcahol would be more difficult than snorting liquid alcohol, and it is also more difficult to sneak into venues.

Despite these counterarguments, some people are still unsure about the substance.

Hans House, vice head of education and interim vice head of research in the UI Emergency Medicine Department, said that despite the advice not to snort palcahol, “people out there are dumb, and they’ll find ways to abuse anything.”

Another issue with snorting, he said, is damage to the central nervous system.

“If you snort it, it skips the liver and goes to the brain, straight to the central nervous system,” he said.

These factors, and more, make officials wary of palcahol.

“The Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division’s stance is that there are too many unknowns about this product,” Bailey said.

Susan Mims, the Iowa City mayor pro tem, shares Bailey’s concerns.

“I think anything that makes it easier to over consume is great concern,” she said.

House said he believes overconsumption is a big factor with palcahol.

“You can reconstitute it in a different volume,” House said. “There’s no reason you couldn’t reconstitute the alcohol in just an ounce [of liquid]. You can make the palcahol in any volume you want.”

Rebecca Don, a behavioral health consultant at UI Student Health and Wellness, said palcahol adds to UI concerns. 

“Campuses across the nation been working to address harmful alcohol use for years, and while we have seen some great progress, we still haven’t solved it,” she said. “Throwing powered alcohol into the equation now adds another layer now that needs to be investigated and addressed.”

Phillips said he believes students would much rather prefer liquid alcohol to powdered alcohol.

“Palcohol costs four times more than liquid alcohol and one can’t drink it straight like liquid alcohol,” he said. “Kids will always choose liquid alcohol.”

With the health and safety concerns, some experts are skeptical about palcohol.

Bryce Plapp, a UI professor emeritus of biochemistry who researches  alcohol, said the part of alcohol that intoxicates people is ethanol, which is always in a liquid form.

He doesn’t see how ethanol could be made into a powder, meaning there have to be unknown substances mixed in with it to ensure it doesn’t become some sort of gummy substance.

A Palcahol official wrote in an email that officials are unable to comment on how palcohol is made.
Plapp said if people would really like to have alcohol at a high concentration, they should go to the liquor store.

“The only advantage I can see is the so called powdered alcohol is maybe that you wouldn’t spill it so easily,” he said.

Phillips, however, sees many advantages to palcahol.

“Liquid alcohol is easier to conceal, easier to spike drinks, and easier to use to binge drink,” he said. “It’s much less expensive and allows someone to get drunk faster, both which appeal to the underage drinker.”

Despite the many criticisms of his product, Phillips said, he believes palcahol needs to made legal, regulated, and taxed as is liquid alcohol.

“All of the criticisms are just hyperboles created by people who have no knowledge of the product,” Phillips said. “There is no good reason to ban powdered alcohol, and there are plenty of reasons not to ban it.”


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