Thursday, June 07, 2007

Powdered alcohol for kids

*updated 16.02. see below* .

After a almost a week of booze hogging the blog we will hopefully be returning to good old fashioned illegal drug news soon. In the mean time......

The latest shocker comes from the Netherlands where some students have, according to Reuters, produced a powder, named Booz2go, which when water is added creates a fizzy lime flavoured beverage that is 3% alcohol. A bit implausible perhaps but not entirely beyond the realms of science. Worryingly the inventors are very specifically "aiming for the youth market. They are really more into it because you can compare it with Bacardi-mixed drinks".

So its a powdered alcopops for the nippers.

The inventors, who cooked up the new product for an end of year school project (on which course I have to wonder?) note that "Because the alcohol is not in liquid form, we can sell it to people below 16," and that as a non liquid it is also not liable to tax (in the Netherlands anyway, I have no idea how the law would view it in the UK or elsewhere).

So actually its a powdered alcopop that tastes like a lime Bacardi breezer, that you can sell to under 16's and don't have to pay tax.

bad enough in the more conventional liquid form

It is perhaps no surprise that the news story ends with the news that 'A number of companies are interested'. And why not; for the alcohol industry this is their DREAM PRODUCT. No tax, no pesky age restrictions, and no need for the pretence that 'alcopops are not produced to target underage drinkers, honest'. Maybe it can be snorted too. That could open up a whole new market....


Having consulted some of my science boffin friends it would appear that this story is another example of bad reporting of a some non-news. This story from August 2005 bears an uncanny resemblence to the Reuters 'news' item; the Dutch student's product would apear to be neither an 'innovation' nor their 'invention'. A German product called 'subyou' apparently actually made it to the market, briefly (the website is now defunct)

Subyou sales website

the product

according to the original 2005 coverage on the dw-world German website:

“They look harmless enough, the inconspicuous packets often next to the cashier at gas stations, convenience stores, beverage stores and bars. But according to consumer protection officials, that’s what makes them all the more dangerous, since the powder inside contains alcohol, and a lot of it — about 4.8 percent by volume. That is the equivalent of one to one-and-a-half glasses of liquor.

“The product is called subyou, manufactured by a company in North Rhine-Westphalia, and is marketed squarely at teenagers with slogans like “taste for not much dough” and “gets a good buzz going.” Add the powder to cold water, and consumers have an alcoholic drink containing either vodka or rum. “These are just as dangerous as the alcopops that came in the bottles,” Birgit Rehlender, nutrition expert at consumer affairs organization Stiftung Warentest told Der Spiegel weekly.

“While authorities were able to curtail the consumption of alcopops with a special tax on the drinks last August — which put them out of the reach of many teenage budgets — these new alcopops in powder form cost between 1.65 and 2.40 euros ($2.06 and $3.00) per package. Subyou is able to get around the tax because its product comes in powder form. The powder was first sold over the Internet, and word spread quickly among teenage circles that those under 18 could order off the Internet without fear of being asked for proof of age. However, according to Andrea Schauff, a nutritional expert at Hesse’s consumer protection organization, in many stores the powder is being sold to under-age kids even though a warning is printed on the packets: “Alcohol can be addictive — no sales to minors.”

There is also some details about possible health issues:

“Besides the high alcohol content, youth advocates also worry about the powder’s other ingredients, including high levels of preservatives, sorbic acid, and dyes that have not been approved by health experts. ”
One person noted in a forum I have been discussing this issue on: "Most compounds that would easily release ethanol aren't particularly nice, e.g. diethylpyrocarbonate or diethylcarbonate".

I honestly thought this story was just some agency fluff, a daft 'and finally' story. If, as appears, it actually has some substance then the relevant authorities would need to have this nasty stuff regulated pretty quickly (as appears to have happened in germany) to prevent underage access, and if it is a dodgy as it appears to be, keep it off the market altogether. It seems highly unlikely this will ever trouble us in the UK but, strewth, as if there wasn't enough problems with regular booze.....


MttJocy said...

Okay, that one surprised me and I agree some regulation needs to happen with this stuff, my initial thoughts when I read this in fact were that's simply impossible given the cold hard scientific fact that ethanol at room temperature is a liquid thus making an ethanol powder wouldn't work.

I never even thought to consider the possibility of something that actually would create the ethanol via a chemical reaction when in aqueous solution but not in anhydrous form, the fact these chemicals are little understood is even more worrying.

Normal alcohol is bad enough but at least it is well researched, the risks are widely known and so are methods to prevent them, but these new chemicals (at least new or unresearched for human consumption purposes) these powders contain are by the sounds of things some kind of unknown in many ways even with something as harmful as ethanol I feel it is better the devil you know.

Anonymous said...

mttjocy, you note that the methods to prevent the imbibing of alcohol are well known, this flys in the face of reality, young teens want alcohol and regularly use it, this product answers that need and market,

mabye the times we live in, but with your moralistic views, there will be no progress, as in uk drug policy ie an unmitigated disaster all round from a silly set of maralistic perception as opposed to grasping some difficult nettles...

Anonymous said...

Frankly my first impression is just to be impressed with the science of the thing. I can see why there needs to be fast action by law makers against products of this nature.

John Corey said...

seems very similiar to the NCR demo of microencapsulated martini from 1966... see the Time article,9171,835302-2,00.htm