Soon, you won't even need a liquid to get drunk. Photo: Getty
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Powdered alcohol will appeal to young drinkers, despite what the makers say

Alcohol in powdered sachet form: what could possibly go wrong?

The United States is on the verge of having powdered alcohol – in packets like Kool-aid but with the punch of a rum or vodka cocktail – on sale across the country. After much confusion, Palcohol, which has seven flavours including Cosmopolitan and “Powderita” is on hold over problems with its labelling.

There is a lot we don’t know about this form of alcohol (although a version was patented as far back as 1964), but we know enough about how many young people might receive it and the troubles that are likely to come from putting this kind of product on the market. The makers of Palcohol have defended claims that their product could be used as a sneaky way of avoiding high drinks prices in venues and that the idea came as a neat way of avoiding carrying booze after a day of physical activities. In reality, it could be used in all sorts of ways.

What we do know is that powdered alcohol will probably be particularly appealing to young people, judging from their demonstrated preference for flavoured alcohol (take alcopops for example), and alcoholic jelly. Many adults never imagined that alcoholic jelly would take off among youth, but we know from recent research that these are not only popular, but also most popular among the kids who drink the most. Powdered alcohol is also easily concealable, which will make it more feasible for people who are underage to get hold of, travel with and consume, in both liquid and food form.

Palcohol’s makers appear to have been caught off guard after the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced approval for the product. They hastily changed marketing for their product. Their website had suggested mixing it with guacamole (for “kamikaze guacamole”), salad or other foods as part of their plans to market the product while pointing out that this does not add flavor to the dish, just alcohol.

What’s an average mixed drink?

The producers of Palcohol suggest adding five ounces of liquid to make “one average mixed drink”. It isn’t too big a leap to suggest that drinkers will experiment with adding less liquid and using multiple packets to strengthen the effects – something you can’t do with a regular bottle of drink.

When it comes to alcohol consumption in its traditional liquid form there can be a narrow margin of safety before brain stem functions like breathing, heartbeat rhythm and the gagging reflex begin to shut down when large amounts are consumed over a short space of time, as the fallout from the Neknomination craze has shown. When drinking over a two-hour time period brain stem function may be impaired for average sized men and women respectively at approximately 13 and 10 standard drink servings of alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines the threshold of low risk drinking as no more than four and three drinks in any one day and 14 and seven in any one week period for men and women respectively. The possibility of consuming multiple packets could be dangerous.

Alcohol poisoning is already on the rise: hospitalisations of 18 to 24-year-olds related to alcohol overdoses in the US increased by 67% between 1999 and 2008. The hospitalisation of 26 teens aged 14 to 18 after loading up with drink before a Whiz Khalifa concert in New York shows that alcohol is already too accessible without making it available in packets that are easy to slip into a coat, a classroom or a concert. And of course, what better way to maximise the high than to add Palcohol to beverage alcohol, for at least twice the effect?

Stealth intoxication

The manufacturers have said they only promote responsible drinking, including asking people to make sure they find out whether they can take the product into venues. But we know very little about this new vehicle of alcohol delivery: is it easily detectable when added to other drinks? Could it be used as another form of stealth intoxication in a manner similar to other drugs used to facilitate sexual assaults, for example? If the company suggest adding it to food but say it doesn’t affect taste, does this up the chances of some unsuspecting person consuming it?

Experience in multiple countries with alcopops has shown this type of product and marketing attracts young people at earlier ages, putting them at higher risk for addiction and other negative consequences than those who wait until they are older to drink.

In the US, regulation falls between a number of entities but the Treasury Department’s Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has the most power to regulate alcohol and control decisions through labelling and alcohol taxes. It is the agency that recently gave and then within days and without public explanation withdrew labelling approval for Palcohol to go on the market. It is also possible that the Food and Drug Administration could prevent Palcohol from going to market based on claims that it could be considered a food product or food additive. Given that Palcohol has never before been consumed or sold to the US public at large, it is unlikely the FDA would have considered it to be generally regarded as safe, the FDA’s standard for food safety.

The new, the cool, the tongue-in-cheek all appeal to younger people. Alcoholic powder would likely attract a similarly youthful and risk-taking customer base as did alcoholic jelly, and the result might just be more drinking, more addiction, injuries and other adverse consequences to the drinkers as well as the people around them.

The ConversationJane Binakonsky does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Strictly: Has Ed (Glitter) Balls got the winning moves?

Will the former Westminster high-flyer impress the judges and fans?

Ed Balls once had dreams of Labour leadership. Now, according to flamboyant Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli, the former Shadow Chancellor should be aspiring to “imitate the hippopotamus from Fantasia” every Saturday night, preferably while basting himself in fake tan.

Welcome to my world, Ladies and Gentleman. A place where the former Westminster high flyer  is more famous for sashaying around in sequins (and ineptly tweeting his own name) than for his efforts with the Bank of England. It’s a universe so intoxicating, it made political correspondent John Sergeant drag a professional performer across a dance floor by her wrists in the name of light entertainment.

The same compulsions made respected broadcaster Jeremy Vine alight a prop horse dressed as a cowboy (more Woody from Toy Story than John Wayne) and former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe fly across the ballroom like an inappropriate understudy in an am dram production of Peter Pan. It is a glorious, if unnerving domain.

Ed Glitterballs, as he will henceforth be introduced at every after-dinner speaking engagement he attends, has trotted out many well-rehearsed reasons for signing up: getting fit, being cajoled by his superfan wife, Yvette Cooper, regretting a missed opportunity. But could it be that, as he relentlessly plugs his autobiography, he’s merely after a bit of Strictly stardust for his post-politics career? 

Let’s start with the basics. Politicians are generally unpopular, while anyone with a vague connection to Strictly is treated as a demi-God. So the chance for “the most annoying person in modern politics” (David Cameron’s words, not mine), to bask in reflected glory is a no-brainer.

It’s a valuable opportunity to be humble and self-deprecating — qualities so rarely on display in the House of Commons. Which of us sitting at home scoffing Maltesers, wouldn’t sympathise with poor old Ed being chastised by his impossibly svelte partner for having a beer belly? Early polls suggest the dads’ vote is in the bag.

When Widdecombe appeared on the show back in 2010 — one of the most astonishing rebranding exercises I have ever witnessed — Westminster colleagues warned she would lose gravitas. “My reply was yes I would, but what did I need it for now?” she said.

Strictly Come Dancing gives the nation an extraordinary capacity to forget. Maybe it’s the fumes from the spray tan booth, but Widdecombe’s stern bluster was soon replaced by the image of a sweet old lady, stumbling around the dance floor with gusto. Her frankly shameful record on gay rights evaporated as she traded affectionate insults with openly gay judge Craig Revel Horwood and won us all over with her clodhopping two left feet. Genuinely incredible stuff.

Balls won’t be another Ann Widdecombe. For a start he’s got the wrong partner. She had untouchable fan favourite Anton Du Beke, more famous than some of the celebrity contestants, who happily provided the choreography and patience for her to shine. Balls is with an unknown quantity — new girl Katya Jones. 

His performance has been hyped up by an expectant press, while Widdecombe's had the all-important shock factor. Back then nobody could have predicted her irrepressible stomp to the quarter finals, leading to a career in panto and her own quiz show on Sky Atlantic. And unlike John Sergeant, who withdrew from the competition after a few weeks owing to sheer embarrassment, she lapped up every second.

Neither, however, is Balls likely to be Edwina Currie. If you forgot her stint on the show it’s because she went out in the first week, after failing to tone down her abrasive smugness for the ballroom. Balls is too clever for that and he’s already playing the game. Would viewers have been so comfortable with him cropping up on the Great British Bake Off spin-off An Extra Slice a few months ago?

My bet is that after a few gyrations he’ll emerge as amusing, lovable and, most importantly, bookable. The prospect of Gordon Brown’s economic advisor playing Baron Hardup in a Christmaspanto  is deliciously tantalising. But what happens when the fun stops and the midlife crisis (as he takes great pleasure in calling it) loses its novelty? Can he be taken seriously again?

When asked about Labour’s current Corbyn crisis, Balls told The Guardian: “If I got a call saying, ‘We think you can solve the problem, come back and rescue us,’ I would drop Strictly and go like a shot.” Well, Jeremy Vine came out unscathed — he hosts Crimewatch now, folks! — and thanks to Have I Got News For You, Boris Johnson casually led us out of Europe. Perhaps the best is yet to come.

Great news all round for Balls, then, he’d have to work really hard to come out of this badly. But there’s a reason he’s the bookies’ booby prize, with odds of 150/1 to lift the glitterball trophy. An entertaining but basically useless act has never won the show. We’ll be bored by November.

“But Ed might be sensational!” I hear you cry. Unfortunately his brief appearance on this year’s launch show suggests otherwise. This weekend — the first time he and Katya will perform a full routine —  he will be giving us his waltz, one of the more forgiving dances, and a style Balls has already expressed fondness for.

After that come the sizzling samba, the raunchy rumba and the cheeky Charleston. These can be mortifying even for the show’s frontrunners. As a straggler, Balls may find himself dewy-eyed, reminiscing about the time Bruno compared him to a cartoon hippo. But if he can just cope with a few weeks of mild ridicule, the world could be his oyster.

Emma Bullimore is a TV critic