OP-ED | Palcohol: Ridding Connecticut Of An Imaginary Scourge
Of the 126 acts of legislation that went into effect in Connecticut on Oct. 1, one of them (An Act Concerning Alcoholic Liquor) contains nine different provisions. Most are common sense measures such as allowing package stores to sell cigars and setting guidelines that permit micro breweries to peddle their wares at farmers markets.
But the provision in the omnibus bill that received the most attention is also the one that makes the least sense. Perhaps its proponents mean well, but the ban on the sale and possession of powdered alcohol is entirely unnecessary and fueled in large measure by hysteria and assertions that have little basis in fact.
Powdered alcohol, now marketed by the trade name Palcohol, was approved in March by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which found no basis in the law for denying approval for sale. But that hasn’t stopped politicians from seizing on it, sometimes with the fervor of a Baptist minister delivering a temperance sermon.
State legislators in New York also have enacted a prohibition, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, has called upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban it outright. He called powdered alcohol “the Kool-Aid of teenage binge drinking.” Apparently, hyperbole is contagious because Schumer’s rhetoric spread into a neighboring state.
“They’re snorting it,’’ Connecticut state Rep. Pam Staneski, R-Milford, told her House colleagues during deliberations. “Why? Because inhaling alcohol gets them to the effect they want, which is to be in a drunken stupor . . . They wind up with major nose-bleeds and headaches.’‘
If that’s what young people are doing, then they’re barking up the wrong tree. Wired magazine’s Brent Rose did a fascinating, if unscientific, study designed to educate the Palcohol alarmists on the absurdity of most of their contentions.
Palcohol would not give him a sample of its product for preview, so Rose recreated it using this helpful recipe published last year in Popular Science.
Among Rose’s findings were that the volume of powdered alcohol needed to absorb one drink through the nostrils is prohibitive. Palcohol will come in 29-gram packets. And each packet contains the same alcoholic content as one drink.
Though Rose wryly professed not be an expert on cocaine, he said a typical line of coke is about one tenth of a gram, so a teen looking for a quick high would have to snort 290 lines of powdered alcohol to ingest the equivalent of one drink. That would take about an hour. Meanwhile, the stuff stings your nostrils like salt on an open wound.
Another unfounded concern is that the drink of an unsuspecting coed or the juice box of an innocent toddler could be spiked in a flash while the owner of the beverage is momentarily looking away. Yet again, the frightening scenario falls apart up further inspection. It takes minutes of stirring to mix a 29-gram packet of Palcohol into a drink. Meanwhile dumping a jigger of grain alcohol into a glass takes all of a few seconds.
Others are terrified that powdered alcohol’s concealability will enable teenagers to sneak it into concerts, movies, and other venues where alcohol is typically prohibited. Really? Each packet of Palcohol weighs almost two-thirds of a pound and packs the wallop of one drink. How many pounds of the stuff would you have to sneak into a ballgame to get you and your friends tipsy?
Kudos to Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, who quite sensibly asked why his colleagues didn’t want to regulate powdered alcohol instead of banning it altogether. O’Neill also noted the folly of one state banning such an inebriant while others allow it. Furthermore, a well-regulated substance is typically safer than one bought on the black market.
But I digress. All the powdered booze kerfuffle proves is that too many politicians will pounce on an issue because it’s simply too good to pass up. After all, who could possibly be against protecting our children from danger? It looks great on your brag sheet and maybe no one will notice if it later turns out to be a turkey.
The problem is one of crying wolf. The next time an elected official warns about the “dangers” of anything, constituents everywhere should take out their BS detectors and put them to good use.
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