Alcohol in Powder Form–Innovative, Dangerous, or Both?

On April 8, 2014, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved Lipsmark LLC’s applications for Certification/Exemption of Label/Bottle Approvals (COLAs) for seven varieties of Palcohol®, a new powdered alcohol product. Palcohol comes in a 4” x 6” pouch weighing approximately one ounce, and is meant to be mixed into five ounces of water or other beverage such as soda or juice. On April 21, however, TTB rescinded its label approvals and Lipsmark agreed to surrender the applications after TTB determined that the amount of powder in each pouch was not consistent with the labels.

Powdered Alcohol

According to its website, Palcohol has many safe, legal uses, including beneficial applications with outdoor activities, travel, hospitality, and industrial uses. Lipsmark states that the weight of powdered alcohol in a resealable pouch, rather than a heavy liquid in a glass bottle, makes Palcohol an innovative and useful product. For example, powdered alcohol in a non-consumer formulation could be used as an antiseptic in “remote locations where weight and bulk make it difficult to transport supplies.”

Marketing Missteps

The approval and subsequent surrender of Palcohol’s labels received national attention, due in part to Palcohol’s website. The original text, since removed, included recommendations that consumers could take Palcohol into concerts and sporting events to avoid high costs for alcoholic beverages, adding Palcohol powder to food items to “give it an extra kick,” and inhaling Palcohol. The original text read, “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room….snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you’ll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.” After the website’s revisions, the Frequently Asked Question entry about snorting Palcohol now reads, “Can I snort it? We have seen comments about goofballs wanting to snort it. Don’t do it! You wouldn’t want to anyway. It would take you approximately 60 minutes of painful snorting to get the equivalent of one shot of vodka up your nose. Why would you do that when drinking a shot of liquid vodka takes about two seconds?”

Senator Schumer’s Letter to the FDA

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to the FDA Commissioner requesting that the agency immediately supersede the TTB to halt introduction of Palcohol into the U.S. market. When there are significant health concerns, as in the case of caffeinated alcoholic beverages (including Four Loko), the FDA  can overrule TTB determinations. Schumer said, “Given that the federal TTB can only judge and approve new alcohol products based on labeling and taxation, it’s clear the FDA must utilize their authority to intervene when alcohol products create significant health risks – as they did with Four Loko – and stop this potentially deadly product in its tracks.”

Palcohol’s Response

In response to Senator Schumer’s letter, Palcohol updated its website to read, “It is unfortunate that Sen. Schumer allowed himself to get caught up in the hysteria about powdered alcohol by making uninformed statements regarding Palcohol and asking for its ban. We are sending the press release to him to educate him about Palcohol. Palcohol has many positive uses and shouldn’t be banned. Rather it should be approved, taxed and regulated just like liquid alcohol.” Palcohol included a letter from its attorneys, speaking of Lipsmark’s intention to pursue “an educational campaign to empower the public about the incredible benefits of this novel product,” and to discourage the media from engaging in “fearmongering.”

What’s Next

For now, Lipsmark plans to submit new COLA applications to TTB and hopes that the product will be available for consumers as early as Fall 2014. It will begin with vodka and rum, as well as four cocktail varieties: cosmopolitan, Powderita (margarita-flavored), mojito, and lemon drop. A CNN feature described some of the long history of other powdered alcohol products, concluding that Palcohol faces a number of obstacles, the least of which is Palcohol’s presentation as a product for a stereotypical “wild party animal.”