Palcohol Strikes Back


By Zach Schepis

Photo courtesy of Lipsmark LLC.

It’s well after midnight when a notification flashes to life across the computer screen. A personal message from a CEO to a reporter hardly warrants this kind of urgency, but there’s an undeniable enthusiasm to it.

“Whew, it’s been a long time since the media firestorm last year about powdered alcohol,” Lipsmark LLC brand owner Mark Phillips writes to BTR.

“I’ve laid low with the Alcohol and Tabacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to get Palcohol approved. After four years that felt like forever, they approved it yesterday. Finally!”

That following March morning, before the sun had time to tiptoe out of the east, seemingly every national media outlet published their shocking discovery about Phillips’ controversial product.

Palcohol has the legal green light and could be coming to a liquor store near you.

Each article shared the news a bit differently. Some reporters fired off straightforward facts about TTB regulations and the FDA. Others lauded the decision, while a derisive opposition lambasted the young CEO for a potentially dangerous product.

Amongst all of the heated opinions, one thread remained common: Phillip’s voice was noticeably absent from much of the reporting.

Almost a full year ago BTR covered the rising Palcohol story. At the time, the TTB had approved and then subsequently revoked labels for the alcoholic supplement. Writers were running amok with speculations, while Phillips, the creator, was nowhere to be found for comment.

“Nobody knows yet,” he tells BTR in the wee hours of the morning. “But since you wrote to me back then, I’m giving you advance notice of approval.”

Over the last 10 months Phillips has been working nonstop with the TTB to ensure that his product conforms to laws that classify alcohol as a liquid. Working alongside the FDA, both organizations tested Palcohol in every possible way and approved its sale in the United States.

While the sense of victory is palpable, the clearing smoke reveals a battle won rather than the war itself. Palcohol still faces the challenge at the state level–where Phillips fears that it can be banned by anyone subject to “ignorant speculation” and “misinformation.”

Image courtesy of Lipsmark LLC.

There’s already some evidence of his worries in the works. Five states including Alaska, Louisiana, and Vermont passed along legislation banning the product’s sale before its approval. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, close to three dozen bills in 24 states were already passed this year regarding the powdered substance.

Democratic Senator Gwen Margolis recently filed a bill to ban Palcohol from the state of Florida. It’s still up in the air whether or not the Senate will be swayed, but Margolis continues to express her concern for both her children and grandchildren that “live in the state.”

Phillips, however, only sees folly in these measures attempting to ban his product. In his eyes, history has its way of repeating itself.

“Why don’t legislators remember that Prohibition was a complete failure?” poses Phillips. “By banning powdered alcohol, the state is going to create a black market–which means they’ll lose control of the distribution.”

That’s not all. He adds that as a direct result of this resurrected black market underage drinkers will have easier access to Palcohol.

Peter Franchot, Maryland’s Comptroller who recently assured the state would not be distributing the product, is afraid for the risks associated with underage consumption. Similarly, Mark Fontaine with the Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association fears that a 12 percent drop in alcohol use among students could be suddenly reversed.

In addition, there is the hideous collective imaginings of teenagers rolling up bills and laying out lines of the powdered booze for some not-so-savory sniffles.

Phillips retorts that only through banning his product will these black markets arise, which will subsequently feed off the state’s loss of distribution control. He adds that the state will end up spending precious resources trying to enforce the ban–which in all likelihood, probably won’t work.

These speculated issues, of course, don’t even count the significant loss in tax revenue the states banning Palcohol will face.

Ultimately, the federal government’s acknowledgment of Palcohol as a legitimate version of alcohol poses some interesting questions. If the FDA and TTB consider powdered alcohol in the same category as liquid alcohol, then how can they ban one without banning the other?

Phillips acknowledges the hypocrisy. He believes that if the federal agencies that control the jurisdiction find it safe, then so too should everyone else.

“Since when is it the role of the government to play nanny and tell us what we can and cannot drink?” asks Phillips.

He reasons, “No matter how well-intentioned, the legislature exists to protect our rights to live how we choose–not to use coercive power to force their values on us.”