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