Question:"Can sucking on activated charcoal tablets help you beat a breathalyzer test?"
Mythbusters Mailbag: Can you beat a breathalyzer... using charcoal?
There's a great scene in the 2005 film Thank You For Smoking where three characters - lobbyists who call themselves the Merchants of Death - are idly shooting the breeze.
The scene goes something like this:
Gun lobbyist: Did you know that you can fool the breathalyzer test by chewing on activated charcoal tablets?
Alcohol lobbyist: Well, maybe we should change our slogan to "If you must drink and drive, suck charcoal."
Tobacco lobbyist: Won't the police ask about the charcoal in your mouth?
Gun lobbyist: There's not a law against charcoal.
Tobacco lobbyist: Yet.
It's a funny scene, but is it factual? Can you really fool a breathalyzer test by putting activated charcoal - a form of carbon that is very porous, and is known for its absorption capabilities - in your mouth? The answer is maybe, according to Dr. Steven Richardson of the University of Saskatchewan's Department of Pharmacology.
"I'm not sure that activated charcoal would remove much of the alcohol from a person's breath," says Dr. Richardson. "But it might absorb some of the alcohol from the breath being blown into the breathalyzer."
Still, it's a pretty unlikely scenario, according to Dr. Richardson. "You would have to be blowing into the breathalyzer through a mouthful of activated charcoal," he says. "The authorities wouldn't allow this to happen. They don't even allow you to chew gum during these tests."
And the best way to beat a breathalyzer? Don't drink and drive.