New Jersey Smokers may be “Falsely Accused” of DWI by Police Breathalyzer Machines

New Jersey motorists charged with drunk driving may be surprised to learn that blood alcohol content (BAC) measuring devices such as the Alcotest machine can return falsely elevated BAC readings that don’t reflect an individual’s actual state of sobriety. As a New Jersey DWI defense attorney, I find that a percentage of people charged with driving under the influence of alcohol were not actually legally drunk due to faulty breathalyzer results.

Body weight, time since you last drink and other factors can greatly affect the results of the Alcotest device, a breathalyzer machine commonly used by New Jersey law enforcement agencies. One unexpected cause of false readings can be smoking tobacco.

There is some research that points to smokers as having a greater chance of being accused of DWI due to high BAC readings from a breath test. Actually, breathalyzers like the Alcotest machine don’t really measure alcohol. Their design is such that they detect any compound containing the molecular structure of compounds in the methyl group — which these devices take to be alcohol. This is extremely important for motorists who smoke, because these machines cannot distinguish the difference between alcohol and acetaldehyde.

For those without a medical degree, acetaldehyde is a compound produced by the liver in small amounts as a by-product in the metabolism of alcohol. Surprisingly, scientists have found that acetaldehyde concentrations in the lungs of smokers can be greater than that of non-smokers, many times much greater.

This is why it is quite possible that a smoker arrested for drunk driving based on a breathalyzer test is much more likely to have a falsely high BAC reading. It has also been discovered that cigarette smoking can influence the human body’s absorption of alcohol.

Research on smokers found that venous blood alcohol concentration-time curves between zero and 30 minutes and 60 minutes and the peak BAC were significantly less during the smoking period compared with the non-smoking period. This scientific study concluded that the effect of smoking on alcohol absorption has “considerable social and medicolegal relevance,” and that the ingestion of nicotine should be taken into account when dealing with legal issues involving alcohol metabolism.

This is only one more reason that anyone charged with DWI should consult with a drunk driving defense lawyer as soon as possible to discuss his or her case. There is never any reason for throwing in the towel just because a machine says you were drunk.