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Family and Criminal Law Blog

Monday, February 17, 2020

Smoking Can Affect Your Breathalyzer Test Results

How can smoking lead to inaccurate readings on a breathalyzer?

Worldwide, about one billion people are smokers, representing about 20 percent of the world’s population. For many occasional smokers, drinking and smoking go hand in hand. Breathalyzer tests have come under criticism in recent years from their potential inaccuracies. As more studies come out demonstrating that no two individuals metabolize alcohol the same, it is becoming apparent that the days of accepting breathalyzer test results as clear cut evidence of intoxication are over. Smoking has been found to be just one of many factors that could lead to inaccurate breathalyzer results. Our Midland, Texas DUI lawyers explore the potential influence of smoking on breathalyzer test results below.

Smoking Affects Gastric Emptying

One aspect of the body that smoking affects is the rate of gastric emptying. A British Medical Journal study found that cigarette smoking can influence the body’s absorption of alcohol. This, in turn, can impact the ability of a breathalyzer test to accurately estimate blood alcohol levels of a driver. The study compared the blood alcohol levels of participants both after smoking and after abstaining from smoking for a period of time.

The results of the study indicated that blood alcohol content measured as significantly less during the smoking period as compared to the non-smoking period. This result was believed to be related to the fact that smoking slows the gastric emptying process, thus slowing absorption. Based on this study alone, one could conclude that smoking might falsely lower the BAC, but another factor discussed below could lead to falsely high readings.

Smoking Increases Acetaldehyde

Breathalyzer tests measure all compounds containing methyl molecules, which is broader than just alcohol. Breathalyzer tests will measure acetaldehyde, and cannot distinguish this compound from alcohol. Acetaldehyde is produced by the liver as a byproduct of metabolizing alcohol. Acetaldehyde is also found in the lungs, where the amount of the compound varies from person to person. However, studies have found that the concentration of acetaldehyde in the lungs of smokers is far higher than that of non-smokers. This increases the risk that smokers will have falsely inflated breathalyzer readings. If you are a smoker and believe that smoking or another physiological factor influenced your breathalyzer test results, speak to a DUI defense attorney to find out how you might be able to challenge the admission of the results in court.


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Navarrete & Schwartz, P.C. is located in Midland, Texas and serves the surrounding cities and counties, including: Odessa in Ector County, Andrews County, Martin County, Howard County, Winkler County and Crane County.



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