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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The conflict in Yemen is a Civil War by numbers

Amid the battles, a generation starves.

Ten thousand dead – a conservative estimate at best. Three million internally displaced. Twenty million in need of aid. Two hundred thousand besieged for over a year. Thirty-four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia. More than 140 mourners killed in a double-tap strike on a funeral. These are just some of the numerical subscripts of the war in Yemen.

The British government would probably prefer to draw attention to the money being spent on aid in Yemen – £37m extra, according to figures released by the Department for International Development in September – rather than the £3.3bn worth of arms that the UK licensed for sale to Saudi Arabia in the first year of the kingdom’s bombing campaign against one of the poorest nations in the Middle East.

Yet, on the ground, the numbers are meaningless. What they do not show is how the conflict is tearing Yemeni society apart. Nor do they account for the deaths from disease and starvation caused by the hindering of food imports and medical supplies – siege tactics used by both sides – and for the appropriation of aid for financial gain.

Since the war began in March 2015 I have travelled more than 2,500 miles across Yemen, criss-crossing the front lines in and out of territories controlled by Houthi rebels, or by their opponents, the Saudi-backed resistance forces, or through vast stretches of land held by al-Qaeda. On those journeys, what struck me most was the deepening resentment expressed by so many people towards their fellow Yemenis.

The object of that loathing can change in the space of a few hundred metres. The soundtrack to this hatred emanates from smartphones resting on rusting oil drums, protruding from the breast pockets of military fatigues, or lying on chairs under makeshift awnings where flags denote the beginning of the dead ground of no-man’s-land. The rabble-rousing propaganda songs preach to the watchful gunmen about a feeble and irreligious enemy backed by foreign powers. Down the road, an almost identical scene awaits, only the flag is different and the song, though echoing the same sentiment, chants of an opponent altogether different from the one decried barely out of earshot in the dust behind you.

“We hate them. They hate us. We kill each other. Who wins?” mused a fellow passenger on one of my trips as he pressed green leaves of the mildly narcotic khat plant into his mouth.

Mohammed was a friend of a friend who helped to smuggle me – dressed in the all-black, face-covering garb of a Yemeni woman – across front lines into the besieged enclave of Taiz. “We lose everything,” he said. “They win. They always win.” He gesticulated as he spoke of these invisible yet omnipresent powers: Yemen’s political elite and the foreign states entangled in his country’s conflict.

This promotion of hatred, creating what are likely to be irreversible divisions, is necessary for the war’s belligerents in order to incite tens of thousands to fight. It is essential to perpetuate the cycle of revenge unleashed by the territorial advances in 2014 and 2015 by Houthi rebels and the forces of their patron, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This demand for retribution is matched by those who are now seeking vengeance for the lives lost in a UK-supported, Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign.

More than 25 years after the two states of North and South Yemen united, the gulf between them has never been wider. The political south, now controlled by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, is logistically as well as politically severed from the north-western territories under the command of the Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists. Caught in the middle is the city of Taiz, which is steadily being reduced to rubble after a year-long siege imposed by the Houthi-Saleh forces.

Revenge nourishes the violence, but it cannot feed those who are dying from malnutrition. Blowing in the sandy wind on roadsides up and down the country are tattered tents that hundreds of thousands of displaced families now call home. Others have fled from the cities and towns affected by the conflict to remote but safer village areas. There, food and medical care are scarce.

The acute child malnutrition reported in urban hospitals remains largely hidden in these isolated villages, far from tarmac roads, beyond the reach of international aid agencies. On my road trips across Yemen, a journey that would normally take 45 minutes on asphalt could take five hours on tracks across scrubland and rock, climbing mountainsides and descending into valleys where bridges stand useless, snapped in half by air strikes.

Among the other statistics are the missing millions needed by the state – the country’s largest employer. Workers haven’t been paid in months, amid fears of an economic collapse. This is apparently a deliberate tactic of fiscal strangulation by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile. The recent relocation of the central bank from the Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a, to the southern city of Aden is so far proving symbolic, given that the institution remains devoid of funds. The workforce on both sides of the conflict has taken to the streets to protest against salaries being overdue.

Following the deaths of more than 140 people in Saudi-led air strikes on a funeral hall on 8 October, Saleh and the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called for yet more revenge. Within hours, ballistic missiles were fired from within Houthi territory, reaching up to 350 miles into Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in the Red Sea, Houthi missile attacks on US warships resulted in retaliation, sucking the US further into the mire. Hours later, Iran announced its intention to deploy naval vessels in the area.

Vengeance continues to drive the violence in Yemen, which is being drawn ever closer to proxy conflicts being fought elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet the impact on Yemeni society and the consequences for the population’s health for generations to come are unlikely to appear to the outside world, not even as annotated numbers in the brief glimpses we get of this war. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood