In a county where the people who regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages are particularly tough on businesses selling to minors or to intoxicated patrons, what could emerge as a new drinking fad isn't raising any red flags. Not yet.
Powdered alcohol recently reaped some worldwide headlines, when a federal agency claimed it had not approved the sale of a product, called Palcohol, even though it appeared to have done so.
Though the subject of powered alcohol and its regulation came up during the most recent meeting of the Harford County Liquor Control Board in Bel Air on Wednesday afternoon, board members and their chief inspector didn't show much concern about it.
Their view isn't shared by local law enforcement, however, as the chief spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office said he believes there are risks involved with the powdered alcohol concept, particularly for young people.
"The first thing that came to my mind is instant coffee," Chief Liquor Inspector Charlie Robbins told the liquor board members. "You could put alcohol in your coffee."
The product could be sold like any other alcoholic beverage in a liquor store, Robbins noted, and he said he would keep board members updated on its legal status. The board members had little else to say.
Robbins said Thursday he doubts it would be easier for teenagers to sneak the powered variety around.
"They can carry anything else around," he said.
Nor did he say he is particularly concerned the substance would catch on as a teenage fad, although snorting the powder has been mentioned in national media as one way it might be abused.
Joe Ryan, head of the county's Office of Drug Control Policy, said he has heard about powdered alcohol but has not had any conversations about it, nor has he seen any special concern for it in Harford.
Ryan's office has long warned county residents that binge drinking by minors remains a significant problem, one on par with the abuse of legal and illegal drugs.
But Edward Hopkins, spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, said there should be a concern if the powder could make it easy for children or teens to confuse it with other substances or ingest too much.
"We think it's an incredible risk," Hopkins said, noting he had just heard of the concept.
"What if you try to snort it?" he said. "What does that do to the body?"
Hopkins also said he believes the powder would be easier for teens to carry and conceal than liquid alcoholic beverages.
Palcohol, according to its website, comes in several varieties, including vodka, Puerto Rican Rum and a margarita mix, sold in individual bags with the equivalent of a shot of alcohol when mixed with water.
Palcohol's makers thought the had received approval earlier this month from the federal Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau, a Treasury Department agency, to sell the powder, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. But the company later said "there seemed to be a discrepancy on our fill level, how much power is in the bag," so it voluntarily surrendered its labels.
The company noted the labels, not the product, weren't approved, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"We have re-submitted our labels," the makers of Palcohol posted on their website Thursday. "A minor change was all that was needed, so we expect that the labels should be approved soon."
According to the L.A. Times report, the makers of the Palcohol aren't making their production process known until they secure a patent.
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Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this story.