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May 11, 1994

Breath Alcohol After Using Mouthwash

Author Affiliations

State University of New York Health Science Center at Syracuse

JAMA. 1994;271(18):1400-1401. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03510420032018

To the Editor.  —The article by Modell et al1 is helpful in reminding us that many over-the-counter products contain ethyl alcohol. Modell et al used mouthwashes as their example, but many breath-freshener sprays, cold medications, cough syrups, and other preparations also contain alcohol. The observations of Modell et al regarding the effects of mouthwash on breath alcohol measurements confirm the findings of Spector,2 which were published in 1971, although they did not cite the Spector article. Both groups found that mouth alcohol contamination can produce high readings with breath alcohol test instruments (eg, Intoximeters or Breathalyzers). In both articles this false-positive effect declines rapidly and exponentially with time.The false-positive effect of these alcohol-containing preparations should be of little or no practical significance in the realm of breath testing for driving-while-intoxicated charges. In New York State, and in all other states that I am aware of, enforcement agencies

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