In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Palcohol: Easy-to-Mix Packets of Risk

March 31, 2015

In March 2014 the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved, and then retracted approval of, labels for a powdered alcohol product called Palcohol. Powdered alcohol's many potential health risks (e.g. easy to conceal, snort, use to adulterate someone else's drink, mix with caffeinated beverages, mix with liquid alcohol, or mix with a small amount of liquid) immediately raised alarm among legislators and public health advocates across the country. Parents, medical professionals, and law enforcement voice concerns about the product making it easier to sneak alcohol into locations where it is illegal; Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) dubbed it Kool-Aid for underage drinking.

Palcohol and Lipsmark LLC founder/owner Mark Philips reacted, and still reacts, by dismissing concerns and reasonable inquiries about the product's safety. Never mind that the Palcohol website originally promoted some of those same risks, before the media took notice of his product in early 2014 and the original web content was removed or revised.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has called for a ban on Palcohol,
dubbing it "Kool-Aid for underage drinking."

Earlier this month the TTB approved labels for Palcohol a second time . To date, 6 states have banned powdered alcohol, 2 states have taken administrative/regulatory action to ban it, and at least 22 states have legislation pending that would ban it. Voicing disbelief that such a dangerous product could be approved in the first place, Senator Schumer called for federal legislation to ban Palcohol and other powdered/crystalline alcohol products.

Nevertheless, Philips says Palcohol will be on the market this summer - at least in states that have not banned powdered alcohol yet.

As we saw with caffeinated alcoholic beverages, states are well within their purview to ban alcoholic beverages that pose additional dangers to public safety and health. The 20+ states that have not yet taken action should move quickly to protect youth, and enact bans on powdered alcohol.

For legislative updates regarding dangerous products like Palcohol, see the AJ Legislative Activity page.

Diageo Targets Youth on Instagram

by Holley Shafer

March 17, 2015

Following in its own footsteps of the first alcohol/Facebook partnership, Diageo is now the first to bring alcohol advertising to youth on Instagram, courtesy of P Diddy and his Ciroc partnership. The 6-week Ciroc/Diddy/Instagram campaign includes a video with the potential to expose hundreds of thousands of underage youth to Ciroc.

Diageo claims it is targeting millenial consumers, but multiple market studies have documented Instagram's appeal to the youth demographic. Market research results have identified Instagram as the most popular social networking app among teenagers, noting that 76% of teens surveyed said they use Instagram; the same survey found that 38% said using Instagram would be a "favorable marketing channel to reach them." Why would Diageo dedicate part of its M&A budget to an Instagram campaign if it didn't want to focus on that particular audience?

Instagram is rated as appropriate for age 12+ on the Apple App Store. Ciroc's warning on its Instagram that users must be 21 or older to follow or view is false and misleading. Instagram users can access the Ciroc Instagram page and follow the brand without specifying their birthdate in their account. (Users can also sign up for an Instagram account, post photos, and follow/be followed without entering their birthdate into the system.) A quick glance at the Ciroc Instagram page shows a Ciroc follower who describes himself as 20 years old commenting on a photo of Diddy last month. This is just one of the many concerning examples. Diageo and P Diddy have already targeted youth of color by focusing on the NBA and hip-hop culture in Ciroc marketing.

As a mother of a 12-year-old whose friends all use Instagram, I find Diageo's blatant attempt to reach tweens and teens with alcohol marketing reprehensible. As noted previously, there is no meaningful recourse for parents who are concerned about Big Alcohol companies targeting their children. Industry guidelines allow companies to overexpose youth to targeted promotions. Alcohol industry trade groups such as the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) write their own vague, subjective guidelines that pertain only to trade group members/funders and have nonexistent monitoring, enforcement, or penalties, and trumpet their dedication to safety.

Given the obvious Instagram youth demographic, Diageo appears to be violating its own code with its 6-week Ciroc campaign - leading the charge to target youth in the digital sphere.

See our reports on Why Big Alcohol Can't Police Itself: A Review of Advertising Self-Regulation in the Distilled Spirits Industry and Alcohol Promotion and Facebook .

A-B InBev's New Youth-Friendly Alcopop

February 18, 2015

Anheuser-Busch InBev (A-B InBev) is targeting youth once again with fruity, soda-like alcopops. It would also love to grab some of the market share it's lost to spirits with MixxTail, its latest flavored malt beverage that mimics mixed drinks such as Long Island Iced Tea and Hurricane. Along with its popular Bud Light Lime-A-Rita alcopop line, Mixx Tail is intended to cash in on the popularity of the Bud Light brand among underage drinkers. A-B InBev is already one of the top alcohol brands among youth, with three products in the top 10 consumed by underage drinkers; Bud Light is number one.

A-B InBev has stated that the new product was created specifically with millennials' preference for fruity flavorsin mind. The product is clearly directed at even younger drinkers; teens are twice as likely as adults to drink alcopops. Though they're malt beverages, many alcopops contain higher levels of alcohol than beer, making them even more risky to youth. The Mixx Tail products are 8% ABV, and will come in 16-oz and 24-oz supersized cans. One 24-oz can would be equivalent to 3.2 standard drinks, enough to acutely intoxicate a 120-pound woman. Seventeen state attorneys general have referred to similar products as "binge-in-a-can," pointing out the public health and safety risk and the obvious targeting of youth.

While A-B InBev rakes in profits on its youth-oriented products, underage drinking causes more than 4,300 deaths each year and $27 billion in economic harm. It's time to stop the harm, and ban alcopops entirely.