Alcopal: irresponsible, implausible, almost certainly illegal

Alcopal is a reportedly legal pill which infuriated road safety campaigners last August. It was claimed that it could allow drivers to drink five pints of beer and still pass a breathalyser test.

The product is now back in the news but unfortunately it still hasn’t been made clear that the pills don’t work and are probably illegal.

Despite claiming to have quit back in January after having been threatened with a gun, last week company director Arthur Kibble was jetting off to Norway to meet his supplier. Meanwhile, an Alcopal spokesperson was discussing the product on BBC local radio and bloggers and journalists were being asked via Twitter to review the product.

In December 2012, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against Alcopal by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. They thought the advertising was irresponsible and incited consumers to break the law. Alcopal continue to make irresponsible claims and are now included on the ASA’s list of non-compliant advertisers.

Disappointingly, the ASA didn’t investigate whether the marketing claims were truthful. Since the product appears to be an unregulated combination of treatments for trapped wind and indigestion, I think it highly unlikely. Although Alcopal claim forensic scientists and pharmacologists have tested their product and found it to be harmless and effective, I have seen no evidence of this, despite having asked for it.

On his BBC WM radio programme last Tuesday, Adrian Goldberg asked company spokesperson Molly Beattie to explain how Alcopal works.

She replied:

… it simply diverts alcohol away from the stomach to the kidneys so that the alcohol that you’re drinking doesn’t get absorbed into the bloodstream.

Goldberg asked by what mechanism it does this.

Beattie replied:

Well, we can’t disclose all of the ingredients that we use, but as I said, it diverts the alcohol that you’re consuming away from the stomach.

The product must be so revolutionary she can’t explain it. Perhaps it teleports the alcohol to the kidneys.

As far as the ingredients are concerned, some reports mention simethicone, usually available over the counter in various branded medicines used to treat trapped wind. Other reports suggest herbal extracts and carbon.

Although Alcopal didn’t show me any evidence their products work, they did include a “list of active ingredients” in their reply to my email:

The pink tablets contain dimethicone or simethicone which is known to create a coating along the inner walls of the stomach and the intestine for better bowel movement. This also helps in the reduced absorption of alcohol through the walls of the stomach and the intestine. The white tablet containing calcium carbonate is known to complex with the alcohol so that it is not absorbed by the stomach nor the intestine and is taken to the kidneys instead.

Calcium carbonate, or chalk, is typically used medicinally as a calcium supplement or as an antacid, to treat heartburn and indigestion.

They went on to explain that:

All of the ingredients used are prescription free and have been fully tested.  Most of the ingredients can be found in things like Gaviscon.  The only side effect of using Alcopal is flatulence.

But whatever the combination of ingredients and however minimal the side effects may be, not having been banned doesn’t make it legal. Medicinal products generally need a licence before they can be legally sold in the UK.

And the claims aren’t limited to alcohol. The Alcopal website claims that the pills also prevent spiked drinks from entering the bloodstream. According to NHS Choices, the most common date rape drugs (as well as alcohol itself) are gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), tranquilisers such as valium and rohypnol, and ketamine.

Can all these drugs be safely teleported to the kidneys too?

And even if Alcopal is not an unlicensed medicine*, the company are still making false and misleading claims. I believe this would still make the sale and marketing of the pills illegal, as it would be in breach of Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading regulations.

I would welcome clarification on any of these points and have therefore written to Citizens Advice, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency*, RoSPA, Drinkaware, and of course to Alcopal.

I await their replies.

*UPDATE 11/09/13

The MHRA have informed me that Alcopal is not a medicinal product and is therefore not within their remit.

UPDATE 15/11/13

Drinkaware have replied to say:

I would like to confirm you that Alcopal are using the logo without a license and we are looking into this at the moment. We are aware of the issue. Both the Drinkaware logo and website address are registered trademarks and need a licence to be used. Alcopal does not have a licence and therefore any use of our logo or similar reference is an infringement of the trademark rights granted by the Intellectual Property Office, causing confusion and damage to our reputation.

Further reading

Campaigners’ fury at legal pill Alcopal which lets you drink five pints of beer and still pass a breathalyser test Eddie Wrenn, Mailonline, 27/08/12

Pill to ‘beat the breath test’: Fury at claim drivers taking product can pass after drinking FIVE pints Martin Fricker, Mirror, 28/08/12

Fury at £20 pill that can beat drink-drive breath test Sun+, 28/08/12

Alcopal: Sold By Dickheads, FOR Dickheads Diary Of An ADI, 28/08/12 (see also several further Alcopal posts on the same blog, here)

Mother from Peterborough condemns sale of a pill which claims to reduce the level of alcohol during breathalyser tests Nimesh Joshi, ITV Central, 29/08/12

ASA Adjudication on Alcopal Ltd Advertising Standards Authority, 05/12/12

Non-compliant online advertisers: Alcopal Ltd, Advertising Standards Authority, 18/12/12

Controversial Walsall drug businessman quits after being threatened with a gun Mike Lockley, Birmingham Mail, 27/01/13

12 responses to “Alcopal: irresponsible, implausible, almost certainly illegal

  1. Absolute nonsense.It’s almost like a parody of an anti-alcohol pill.

  2. If the pill prevents alcohol from entering the bloodstream, presumably drinkers remain sober? This should definitely catch on.

    • If such a product actually worked reliably and was safe and legal I think there would be a market for it – but there are a lot of ifs there. It isn’t going to work, which makes it potentially dangerous.

      This was a funny thing that I didn’t mention in the post. Someone made a similar point to yours on Adrian Goldberg’s phone in. Adrian then spoke to a man who claimed to be an Alcopal customer and to use it regularly when drinking socially. He said he isn’t a big drinker, would usually just have, say, one glass of wine. When out with friends he likes to be able to join in with the drinking without getting too drunk. I suppose this would be a coherent enough argument, if the product actually worked. Anyway, what little credibility this guy had fell apart when Adrian asked him why he had phoned in using his personal mobile number, rather than just ringing the switchboard? And how did he get his mobile number? It was quite amusing, but sadly the programme is no longer available to listen again. They must just keep them up there for a week.

  3. The claims made about the product stopping alcohol from being absorbed and being taken instead straight to the kidneys is 100% bullshit. The claim is physiological nonsense. The only way for anything ingested to reach the kidneys is to be transported there via the bloodstream. The only way for anything ingested to reach the kidneys is therefore to be absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Alcohol is mostly absorbed from the small intestine, but it can also be absorbed (to a much smaller degree) from the stomach. Given that the surface area of the small intestine is about 250 square metres, it would take an enormous amount of any agent to line the gut wall to block ethanol absorption. The claim about the product lining the stomach and therefore preventing ethanol absorption is therefore patently provable nonsense.
    If the MHRA are not interested in this being an illegally marketed drug or drugs, I suggest Trading Standards and the Food Standards Agency. They were the means by which MMS got squished!

  4. I agree that the claims are utter nonsense.

    I now have to go through Citizens Advice for Trading Standards (at least for my local office). I’ve just had a reply from Citizens Advice to say that it has been passed on, but that TS will only contact me if they need to. If I don’t hear back from them, another option might be to contact Mr Kibble’s local Trading Standards office.

    The MHRA, surprisingly, suggested the Home Office, who suggested the Department of Health.

    Although I’ve not written to the FSA over this, last time I wrote to them (over colloidal silver), they told me that they wouldn’t act on that because responsibility for nutrition policy was transferred from the FSA to the Department of Health in England and to the Welsh Assembly Government in Wales on 1 October 2010. I’m not sure if this is a similar situation or not but I suppose it might be worth me writing to them anyway.

  5. You linked to my blog above – I just wanted to point out that there are follow up articles on the topic on the blog from around the same time:

  6. Thanks. I’ve updated the list to make it clear that you’ve written several posts on Alcopal.

    How strange that someone took exception to you using the term “dickhead” to describe for anyone either buying or selling Alcopal. I can think of far worse, yet equally appropriate, things to call such people.

  7. As a result of the backlinks I’ve been getting from your site I saw an article that I’d previously missed, which I’ve also commented on:

    It would be interesting to see the comments from any medical people on here concerning Kibble’s latest claims that Alcopal…

    “…stops alcohol entering the blood stream, re-directing it to the kidneys.”

    I wonder what non-metabolised alcohol would do to the kidney(s) if it got there? And I wonder how the “natural” ingredients (and carbon) in Alcopal achieve this wondrous feat?

    • I believe the previous commenter, Dr Paul Morgan, is a medical person. As you can see above, his opinion is that the claim that the alcohol is redirected to the kidneys is “100% bullshit”. I would agree. My suggestion that the alcohol may reach the kidneys by teleportation wasn’t entirely serious. And if this nonsense were true, it would of course be bad news for the kidneys.

      If this story gets any more press coverage, I would like to see comments from a medical professional making it clear how nonsensical the claims are in terms of physiology.

  8. I agree. Whenever the press mentions it they behave as if it actually works, and they never take issue with the illogical claims being made by Kibble.

    That comment about “re-directing alcohol to the kidneys” cracks me up every time I read it. It’s especially amusing when you look back to his original claims, and the way he explained it then.

  9. I’ve had a reply from the Department of Health. They say that because the MHRA have determined that it needs to follow food law rather than medicines law, I may wish to raise my concerns with the Food Standards Agency. They go on to also suggest Trading Standards (via Citizens Advice) as well as the Home Office, which is responsible for shaping alcohol strategy and policy.

    I had already phoned the Home Office, who suggested Department of Health! I will email them anyway. I’ll also contact the FSA.

  10. Pingback: Alcopal dissolved, but the website lingers | Josephine Jones

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