Palcohol – powdered alcohol which can be mixed with water to create an alcoholic drink – was approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in March this year.
However, a number of states have responded by banning the product within their boundaries.
Timothy Naimi of the Boston Medical Center and James Mosher of Alcohol Policy Consultations, California, say it is time for federal and state governments to “start adequately regulating the sale, distribution, and marketing of all alcohol products.”
Palcohol banned in 12 states (and counting)
Naimi and Mosher see a gap in the approval process for new alcoholic products.
“The TTB, the federal agency primarily responsible for regulating the alcohol market, is housed in the Treasury Department. Its statutory authority to address public health and safety issues is limited, and it has little expertise in these areas,” they write.
“As a result, as part of its review process, the TTB does not typically focus on these issues associated with the new product. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) typically defers to the TTB, as was the case with powdered alcohol products. The FDA review of Palcohol focused on the non-alcohol ingredients, which were in compliance with FDA regulations, and the FDA claimed it had no legal basis to restrict the sale of powdered alcohol.”
Although the TTB has approved Palcohol, 12 states have prohibited its sale (as of June 12). These are Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Maryland, Minnesota and South Carolina have temporary bans.
Precaution is better than cure
Palcohol has courted controversy for a number of reasons. Critics say it would contribute to binge drinking and alcohol poisoning as it is easy to overdose by mixing a beverage of a stronger alcohol concentration.
There are also concerns that powdered alcohol could be used to ‘spike’ non-alcoholic beverages, or easily hidden to bring into locations where alcohol is banned or restricted (such as schools or music events).
“The degree to which these concerns might be realized is unclear,” continue the authors.
“However, in the absence of data proving that a product is safe or manageable, the precautionary principle as applied to public health requires that reasonable safety be established prior to the introduction of potentially dangerous products.
“Once a product is sanctioned, in wide use by the public, economically viable, and generating revenues that get funneled back into political efforts to preserve or augment those revenues, it becomes difficult to reverse course, regardless of subsequent scientific evidence about resulting harms.
“The precautionary principle is routinely followed at the federal level for most new food products, non-alcoholic beverages, and prescription drugs, which makes the federal government’s failure to regulate alcohol product innovations particularly concerning.”
Alcoholic jello shots and alcoholic energy drinks are both products that should have had closer inspection before entering the market, they add.
Source: JAMA, Published online June 15, 2015.
Title: Powdered Alcohol Products: New Challenge in an Era of Needed Regulation