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Can a breath test detect ethanol contained in e-cigarettes?

On Behalf of | Mar 10, 2023 | Criminal Defense

The use of vape products such as e-cigarettes has become a popular alternative to smoking tobacco products. Vaping is seen by many to be less harmful than smoking tobacco. Vaping is legal in Texas for those aged 21 or older.

Vaping and driving is not prohibited under Texas impaired driving laws. Nicotine is not a substance that could put you under the influence in a manner that makes it unsafe to drive.

Still, if police have cause to pull you over and administer a roadside breath test to determine if you are impaired by alcohol, the use of vape products might result in a false-positive reading.

Vape products and breath tests

e-liquids are nicotine solutions that are used to flavor vape products. These solutions can contain ethanol, even if this ingredient is not specifically listed on the product.

One clinical study examined whether the ethanol in e-cigarettes could be identified in a breath test.

The study concluded that if the breath test was administered immediately after vaping an e-cigarette containing 20% ethanol, the breath test would detect alcohol. However, if the breath test was administered 15 to 20 minutes after vaping an e-cigarette containing 20% ethanol, the breath test would not detect alcohol.

DUI traffic stops

In general, officers must wait 15 to 20 minutes before performing a breath test at a DUI traffic stop. If they do so, a breath test given after a motorist uses an e-cigarette may not result in a false-positive reading.

But if the breath test is immediately performed at a DUI traffic stop without following standard waiting periods, it could result in a false-positive result if the motorist had been using an e-cigarette at the time of the stop.

In Texas, officers must adhere to a 15-minute waiting period before administering a breath test. This is to allow any residual alcohol to dissipate, including alcohol that may be present due to legal vaping.

It is legal for Texas motorists to vape and drive, and if a motorist is arrested for DUI due to a false-positive breath test reading, they might have the opportunity to challenge the breath test results.