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The Impact of Vaping Ethanol-Containing Electronic Cigarette Liquids on Roadside Impairment Investigations

NCJ Number
Journal of Analytical Toxicology Volume: Online Dated: 2023
Date Published

Legal professionals and others have suggested that vaping electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) prior to or during ethanol breath testing may produce false positives. Preliminary breath tests (PBTs) and evidentiary breath tests (EBTs) measure ethanol in exhaled breath and standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) are used to assess impairment. Ethanol has been identified in e-cig liquids (e-liquids). Presented are a series of experiments designed to determine the mechanics of vaping ethanol using an e-cig and the effects of vaping ethanol on the SFSTs and breath tests used by law enforcement officers (LEO). Twelve participants (five females, age: 21–32 and seven males, age: 21–55), vaped either one or ten puffs of an e-liquid (0% or 20% ethanol). LEOs assessed impairment using SFSTs (12 and 42 min), PBTs (<1, 27, 32, 37 and 57 min) and EBTs (2, 29, 34, 39 and 59 min) post-vaping. A self-assessment test was administered post-vaping (22 and 52 min). Baseline responses for all measures were collected prior to vaping. Results demonstrated that ethanol in the e-liquids was aerosolized by e-cigs and produced particles that could reach the deep lung tissue based on mean-mass diameter. Ethanol was detected by PBT <3 min after participants vaped one (0.007–0.030 g/210 L) or ten puffs (013–0.074 g/210 L) of a 20% ethanol e-liquid. Ethanol was not detected by PBT at any subsequent time point. Ethanol was not detected by the EBT under any condition. Impairment was not indicated by the SFST. Some subjective effects were reported, but few statistically significant differences between conditions were indicated. A wait period prior to ethanol breath testing is not always mandated, depending on jurisdiction, or observed in all applications, such as workplace testing. The results demonstrate that a wait period must be employed to prevent vaping-related false-positive breath ethanol results. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2023