Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Fishermen's Friend, Breathalyzers

It comes after a 24-year-old driver was found to be over the legal drink-drive limit during a routine control in Munich. He was taken to the police station where blood tests found he had no alcohol in his system. The man was released after officers found the strongest thing he had taken was a Fisherman’s Friend.

Forensic doctor Thomas Gilg said the essential oils contained in the throat sweets reacted in the same way as alcohol on hand-held breathalysers. He said in tests they found just three of the mentholated sweets could cause a motorist to test three times over the legal limit.

My first question is, is this for real? Turns out there is a Prof. Thomas Gilg at a medical school in Munich. I can’t find a paper or abstract, but I can see that T. Gilg publishes on forensic analysis. Good enough for now.

My second question relates to the breathalyzer, and its scientific validity. As Schneier pointed out in “DUI Cases Thrown Out Due to Closed-Source Breathalyzer,” the people who make these things don’t like to talk about how they work. If we don’t know how they work, how can we assign guilt on the basis of what it says? (Me, I think everyone with halitosis is guilty.) Is the breathalyzer the next polygraph — beloved of the CIA, but with no validity under Daubert?

From Ananova, “Sucking a Fishermen’s Friend could get you into trouble,” via Blondesense, via Sivacracy.