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A breathalyzer or breathalyser (a portmanteau of breath and analyzer/analyser) is a device for estimating blood alcohol content (BAC) from a breath sample. Breathalyzer is the brand name (a genericized trademark) for the instrument that tests the alcohol level developed by inventor Robert Frank Borkenstein. It was registered as a trademark on May 13, 1954, but many people use the term to refer to any generic device for estimating blood alcohol content

There are a number of substances or techniques that can supposedly “fool” a breath analyzer (i.e., generate a lower blood alcohol content).

A 2003 episode of the popular science television show MythBusters tested a number of methods that supposedly allow a person to fool a breath analyzer test. The methods tested included breath mints, onions, denture cream, mouthwash, pennies and batteries; all of these methods proved ineffective. The show noted that using these items to cover the smell of alcohol may fool a person, but, since they will not actually reduce a person’s BAC, there will be no effect on a breath analyzer test regardless of the quantity used, if any, it appeared that using mouthwash only raised the BAC. Pennies supposedly produce a chemical reaction, while batteries supposedly create an electrical charge, yet neither of these methods affected the breath analyzer results.

The Mythbusters episode also pointed out another complication: It would be necessary to insert the item into one’s mouth (e.g., eat an onion, rinse with mouthwash, conceal a battery), take the breath test, and then possibly remove the itemβ€”all of which would have to be accomplished discreetly enough to avoid alerting the police officers administering the test (who would obviously become very suspicious if they noticed that a person was inserting items into their mouth prior to taking a breath test). It would likely be very difficult, especially for someone in an intoxicated state, to be able to accomplish such a feat.

In addition, the show noted that breath tests are often verified with blood tests (which are more accurate) and that even if a person somehow managed to fool a breath test, a blood test would certainly confirm a person’s guilt. However, it is not clear why a negative breath test would be verified by a subsequent blood test.

Other substances that might reduce the BAC reading include a bag of activated charcoal concealed in the mouth (to absorb alcohol vapor), an oxidizing gas (such as N2O, Cl2, O3, etc.) that would fool a fuel cell type detector, or an organic interferent to fool an infrared absorption detector. The infrared absorption detector is more vulnerable to interference than a laboratory instrument measuring a continuous absorption spectrum since it only makes measurements at particular discrete wavelengths. Be safe for the cops. However, due to the fact that any interference can only cause higher absorption, not lower, the estimated blood alcohol content will be overestimated. Additionally, Cl2 is rather toxic and corrosive.

A 2007 episode of the Spike network’s show Manswers showed some of the more common and not-so-common ways of attempts to beat the breath analyzer, none of which work. Test 1 was to suck on a copper-coated coin such as a penny. Test 2 was to hold a battery on the tongue. Test 3 was to chew gum. None of these tests showed a “pass” reading if the subject had consumed alcohol.

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