Unlike traditional cigarettes, vaping contains trace amounts of alcohol that create a false positive in breathalyzer tests.

It’s well known that smoking is hazardous to your health, but did you know that it can also create false positives on a breathalyzer test? Many people are unaware of this phenomenon and the impact it could have if they were to be given a breathalyzer as part of a traffic stop or during routine drug and alcohol testing at work.

How often does it occur, and what do smokers need to know to prevent this from occurring? Let’s look closer and find the answers to some of your most asked questions:

Yes, nicotine can cause a smoker to register a false positive when performing a breathalyzer test. But as unbelievable as it may sound, specific forms of tobacco use are more likely to cause this to happen.

In particular, vaping, which often incorporates ethanol as one of the unlisted ingredients, is a common trigger for a false positive.

A 2022 study conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University conducted a study to determine the accuracy of this claim. While the study is small, the researchers gathered 13 participants who vaped e-liquids containing an ethanol concentration ranging from 0 to 20%.

The group was given breathalyzers before and after vaping, along with a standardized sobriety test conducted by the campus police.

The study found that for participants who vaped e-liquids with a 20% ethanol concentration and were immediately given a breathalyzer within 1 minute after vaping, the test detected the ethanol.

By contrast, ethanol wasn’t detected if an individual waited 15 to 20 minutes after vaping, which is the standard waiting procedure for most driving under the influence (DUI) roadside stops.

Smoking traditional cigarettes has not been found to create a false positive on breathalyzer tests.

Having a false positive test can have wide-ranging implications for people. For people who need to pass sobriety tests for work, a false positive can represent lost income. But in the most severe of scenarios, failing a breathalyzer because an individual vaped and is suspected of a DUI can lead to incarceration.

For this reason, experts and law enforcement consultants urge testers and law enforcement officers to wait 15 to 20 minutes before administering a breathalyzer to reduce the risk of a false positive test result.

This is especially critical given that some e-cigarette liquids can contain ethanol concentrations as high as 23% — ensuring that a person would test positive if given a breathalyzer too soon after vaping.

Learn more about how long nicotine stays in your system.

While most recent studies between tobacco use and breathalyzers tend to focus on the link between ethanol found in vaping liquids and how they register in testing, legacy studies have looked at the link between smoking and alcohol consumption.

Although not directly linked with impacting a breathalyzer’s results, past studies have shown in the past that there’s a detrimental connection between smoking and alcohol.

For example, a 2016 study found that the two substances created a perfect storm of excesses. Alcohol consumption increased tobacco cravings as well as the amount of tobacco consumed.

Meanwhile, nicotine and tobacco consumption increased alcohol cravings and consumption while reducing a person’s ability to judge how the alcohol was affecting them.

Again, while this won’t directly cause a person to fail a breathalyzer, the study paints a picture where the two substances work together in a way that can cause a person to make poor decisions. In particular, not experiencing the effects of alcohol can cause a person to drink more than they should — which can lead to being pulled over for a suspected DUI and failing a breathalyzer test if required to take one.

Learn more about the side effects of vaping here.

Although traditional cigarette smoking is unlikely to cause you to fail a breathalyzer test, the same can’t be said for e-cigarettes. Studies show that the ethanol present in e-cigarettes can cause a false positive if taken soon after vaping.

If you have to take a test either for work or as required by law enforcement and you also routinely vape, be sure to wait for the recommended 15 to 20 minutes to allow the ethanol to metabolize from your mouth before it’s administered.