A Ban on Powdered Alcohol Should Be Our Only Option

Every other year when the Texas Legislature is in session, the issues we care about are examined under a unique legislative lens. We begin to track bills as they are filed; we focus on legislation we will be opposing or supporting; and we share our findings with coalitions, advocates, and supporters.

One of the most important issues we’re monitoring this year is the potential sale of powdered alcohol in Texas.

Powdered alcohol is exactly what it sounds like: alcohol in a powder-like form. Its appearance has been compared to Tang or Kool-Aid, and it would be sold in small pouches intended for consumers to mix with water or another beverage.

The problem with this product is that it is much easier to store, carry, and consume than alcohol – making it more dangerous once it is in the hands of young people.

Currently, powdered alcohol is not sold anywhere in Texas or the United States. We’d like to keep it that way by banning the product in our state.

We are excited that Rep. Trent Ashby (Lufkin) has filed HB1610, which would ban powdered alcohol in Texas. We applaud his efforts to keep young Texans healthy and safe.

Banning powdered alcohol is the only way to keep it from being sold in Texas; it is the only way to keep this harmful product off the shelves – and out of the hands of young people.

We cannot afford to wait until a tragedy occurs to make the necessary policy decision to ban powdered alcohol.

We are thankful Rep. Ashby is championing legislation that bans powdered alcohol in our state. Nearly 40 states have permanently or temporarily banned the product, and several have pending legislation to ban it. Instead of putting business interests ahead of the lives of young people, let’s join those states in making our children’s health and safety our priority.

If you’re interested in educating your lawmaker about this important issue, join us in Austin for our Advocacy Day on February 19th. The day includes a morning training session – where we’ll break down our most important issues – and lawmaker visits (in groups) to educate them about prevention. It’s not too late to register!

A Look Ahead: The 86th Legislature

On January 8, 2019, Texas lawmakers will gather in Austin for the 86th Legislature – a 140-day session designed to pass our state’s budget for the coming 2020-2021 biennnium, as well as hundreds (or possibly thousands) of new laws.

Here at Texans Standing Tall, we’ll be tracking legislation that relates to our mission: to make our communities safer, healthier, and drug-free for Texas youth. As we do every legislative session, we’ll focus on policies that most directly connect to our primary goal of preventing drug use among youth. In this role, we’ll specifically be monitoring:

  1. Powdered Alcohol, or Palcohol. This product, alcohol in powdered form, is appealing to youth because the kool-aid-like packaging makes it easy to conceal.  Nearly 40 states have already banned powdered alcohol, and the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that it supports state and federal laws banning it in the United States because the product could “cause serious harm to minors.” We’ll be working to ensure powdered alcohol does not make it onto shelves in Texas
  2. Alcohol Excise Taxes. Increasing alcohol excise taxes saves lives and raises money for the state. Excise tax funds are a significant source of revenue for governments and an area of opportunity for those facing budget deficits. In Texas, alcohol excise taxes have not been raised since 1984. Yet increasing our alcohol excise tax by as little as a dime a drink would save 402 lives, prevent more than 27,000 youth from binge drinking alcohol, and generate $708 million for Texas every year.
  3. Raising the Legal Purchase Age of Tobacco to 21. Across the country, numerous cities and two states (Hawaii and California) have enacted policies that raise the legal minimum age for sale of all tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. According to conservative estimates, if raising the tobacco sale age to 21 was adopted throughout the U.S., it would prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in youth alive today. You can learn more from our friends over at texas21.org.
  4. Tobacco Prevention and Control Funding. As it stands, Texas spends only 3.9% of the $268 million the CDC recommends on tobacco prevention. Currently, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) funds 6 counties in the state to implement comprehensive, community-based tobacco prevention and control. As a result, these Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalitions (TPCCs) have been able to create change by mobilizing local citizens to help pass smoke-free ordinances in their communities, educating youth on the harms of smoking, and helping current smokers quit through education on and referrals to the Quitline. At TST, we’ve worked with numerous cities and counties on their efforts to make their cities smoke free; in the Rio Grande Valley alone, more than a dozen cities are now smoke free. However, statewide funding is imperative to make sure TPCCs can continue their work to prevent young people from smoking, help current smokers quit, and create smoke-free air for all Texans.
  5. Efforts to legalize marijuana. As policies regarding medical and recreational marijuana use change throughout the country – and possibly in our state – we’ll be following the issue in order to address various public health and safety concerns that may arise.

If you are interested in advocating for these issues and more, join us for our Advocacy Day in Austin on February 19th. This fun and educational day brings together youth and adult prevention advocates from across the state to raise awareness on public health issues at the Texas Capitol. We hope you’ll join us – and bring a few friends! To learn more and register for the event, click here.

Update: Powdered Alcohol

Thanks to dedicated efforts from advocates across Texas, we came together and accomplished something important: we let policymakers know that powdered alcohol has no place in our state.

There’s still work left to do, and in the coming months, we’ll be calling on you to keep educating your family, friends, and elected officials about the importance of keeping this dangerous product off the shelves. But first, let’s look at what we were able to do when we worked together this session:

  • On February 28, TST brought together advocates from across the state for Advocacy Day at the Texas Capitol. After a morning of training, attendees visited their representatives’ offices to educate them on the dangers of powdered alcohol and ask them to ban the product.
  • In March, TST CEO Nicole Holt, along with coalition members from across the state, provided testimony on powdered alcohol before House and Senate committees. During the hearings, YLC member Andrea Marquez demonstrated how easy it would be for youth to conceal nearly 50 shots of alcohol in a makeup bag. See the video below for the same demonstration shared during TST’s Statewide Summit.
  • The Texas Tribune covered powdered alcohol and the committee hearings in a featured piece on their website.
  • TribTalk published op-eds about reasons for banning powdered alcohol from TST’s Sachin Kamble and YLC member Andrea Marquez.
  • Coalition members and other concerned citizens called and emailed their representatives to say that an outright ban of powdered alcohol is the safest path forward for our youth.
  • Powerful advocates and community leaders in Lufkin and College Station had editorials on banning powdered alcohol published in local papers.
  • Efforts to classify and regulate powdered alcohol as an alcoholic beverage died in the House and Senate.

And then this happened…

Towards the end of May, we saw that the label for Lt. Blender’s “Cheat-A-Rita” has been approved and it’s getting closer to the marketplace. Though we’ve made great strides, there are still businesses out there looking to make money by selling a dangerous product that poses a threat to the health and safety of our youth, even though there’s no demand for it.

Clearly, we have more work to do.

We will continue to monitor what’s happening with powdered alcohol in Texas and throughout the United States. Be sure to stay tuned and let us know how you want to be involved. Click the “Get Involved!” button below and let us know if you would like to:

  • Receive news and updates on powdered alcohol.
  • Contact your representatives about banning powdered alcohol.
  • Provide testimony on powdered alcohol during any interim hearings or the legislative session in 2019.
  • Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for the paper in your community.
  • Participate in a powdered alcohol workgroup.

Get Involved!

Thanks for your continued support and advocacy efforts!

YLC Members of the Month: Andrea Marquez and Carlos Vela

Carlos and Andrea after testifying at the Capitol

Andrea Marquez and Carlos Vela were selected as the April and May YLC Members of the Month for their outstanding advocacy efforts; both made trips to the Texas Capitol to provide public testimony on issues that affect underage alcohol and tobacco use.

Catching an early morning flight from El Paso to Austin, Andrea spent two days in town so she could testify on her concerns about powdered alcohol before the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee and Senate Business & Commerce Committee. During her testimony, Andrea discussed why she thinks it’s important to ban the product and demonstrated how easy it would be for a youth to conceal powdered alcohol packets. Armed with a makeup bag containing 48 Kool-Aid packets (the approximate size of a powdered alcohol packet), she dumped them onto the table and shared that the packets in her small bag equaled more shots than what you would find in a large 1.75L bottle of alcohol. She then asked legislators to think about which one they thought would be easier for a young person to sneak out of the house without their parents noticing: the bottle or the bag? Her powerful testimony helped educate everyone in the room on the potential harms we would see if powdered alcohol ever made it to the shelves.

Making the drive from Ingleside, Carlos came to Austin so he could testify before the House Public Health Committee. Though the hearing got postponed, super advocate Carlos hung around for an extra day so he could speak to the benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco from 18 to 21. He asked for Texas to be a leader in the fight against tobacco by becoming the third state to raise the tobacco age to 21. Carlos also used his personal story about growing up around tobacco use and being offered tobacco in high school to help explain why raising the purchase age will help keep tobacco out of schools and away from youth during an impressionable time in their lives. Since 95% of smokers start before age 21, raising the age of sale to 21 is seen as an effective way to protect our kids from tobacco addiction and save lives. If you’re interested in learning more, Texas 21, a coalition of organizations working to prevent tobacco use, has put together a wealth of information on the issue. Check it out at texas21.org.

We are incredibly proud to call Andrea and Carlos members of our Youth Leadership Council. Along with their fellow YLC members, they constantly inspire us to do more and work harder to ensure we’re creating safe and healthy communities for everyone. If you’d like to learn more about the YLC and how to get involved, contact Georgia Marks at gmarks@texansstandingtall.org or 512.442.7501.

Andrea reminding us to make every day awesome!

Powdered Alcohol Update

Many of you may have been following the movement on the powdered alcohol front in recent months. As the Legislature has made moves to regulate the product, many voices – several of them yours – said it would be better to not see powdered alcohol on the shelves at all.

We believe that powdered alcohol presents a unique set of risks that we haven’t seen since alcoholic energy drinks were introduced in 2005. Unfortunately, alcoholic energy drinks are a prime example of waiting too late to act. Though many public health and policy experts expressed concerns about the dangers of the product, it still found its way to the shelves. The availability of this product, similar to powdered alcohol in youth appeal, resulted in extreme misuse and overconsumption among young drinkers. Unfortunately, it took several young people losing their lives or getting seriously injured before the government decided to act and pull the product. Had alcoholic energy drinks been banned outright, as many experts agreed they should have been, the tragic loss of lives could have been prevented.

Due to our concerns about powdered alcohol, we’ve recently spent a lot of time educating lawmakers and the public about the potential dangers of this product. The bottom line is that powdered alcohol is easy to misuse, conceal, and overconsume. The packets are so small it would be easy for a teen to carry the equivalent of a 30-pack their makeup bag or a 6-pack in their pocket. Alcoholic products that pose this level of danger to our youth require that we be more proactive than reactive; we must act now to prevent harm to our youth instead of waiting to respond once tragedies have already occurred.

We believe the effort to regulate powdered alcohol is well-intentioned and aimed at protecting the health and safety of Texas children. But right now, powdered alcohol is not in the marketplace or black market; regulation would open the door for sales and easy youth access to a product that youth could easily conceal, misuse, or overconsume. As parents, community members, and state leaders concerned about the health and safety of our youth, our efforts should focus on making alcohol products less, not more, available to them. We should not be altering the definition of alcohol to include a powdered version so a company can make a quick buck at the expense of our kids.

As it is, we know that alcohol is the most used substance by youth in Texas, with more than half of middle and high school students saying they have used alcohol at some point in their lifetime. We also know that youth use of alcohol is linked to several serious consequences, such as traffic crashes and fatalities, DUI arrests, poor academic performance, increased dropout rates, unintended pregnancies, and violent crime. Given the number of existing issues that make it challenging enough to protect the lives of our youth, why add another set of completely preventable issues to the list with powdered alcohol?

After the current legislative session ends on May 30, 2017, we will provide a session overview on powdered alcohol, as well as key next steps you can take to keep it off the shelves. In the meantime, to learn more about powdered alcohol and what you can do to protect our youth from the substance, contact Sachin Kamble at skamble@texansstandingtall.org or 512.442.7501, or visit us online at www.TexansStandingTall.org.

TST  used the above props to demonstrate that the number of Kool-Aid packets (which are the approximate size of a powdered alcohol packet) a teen could fit in her makeup bag equaled more shots than there are in a 1.75L bottle of alcohol.