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Medicolegal significance of using smell of liquor as an indicator of alcohol consumption


Tikiri Bandara K. M. Gunathilake ,

Base Hospital, Awissawella, LK
About Tikiri Bandara K. M.
Judicial Medical Officer
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Muditha Vidanapathirana

University of Sri Jayewardenepura, LK
About Muditha
Depratment of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences
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Introduction: Alcohol is odour-less and the smell of liquor originates due to additives. Currently, some liquors are also odour-less and chasers also mask the smell. However, the Medical Officers are expected to identify the odours of liquors for medico-legal purposes and an error in the opinion on smelling of liquor may affect medical officer’s career.  This research was performed to study the ability to detect the smell of liquor of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages by the health personnel.


Methods: A cross-sectional descriptive study was performed in a tertiary care hospital with 100 randomly selected doctors, medical students, nurses and minor employees, 25 of each group. Non-named four alcoholic samples (beer, gal arrack, Lemon Gin and pure alcohol) and four non-alcoholic samples (ginger, garlic, lemon and water) were kept in eight rooms. Participants detected the sample and selected the options in the questionnaire.


Results: ‘Beer’, ‘gal arrack’ and ‘pure alcohols’ were correctly identified by 94%, 68% and 89% respectively. However, irrespective of high concentration, ‘Lemon Gin’ was detected by 40%. When detection of smell of all liquors was compared with sex and the occupation, the differences were not significant (p>0.05).  When detection of liquor smell was compared with the age groups, the difference was not significant for beer and gal arrack (p>0.05) but significant for Lemon Gin (p=0.045<0.05). 


Conclusions: The detection of the smell of liquor is affected by the familiarity, masking effects and age of health personnel. Therefore, medical officers tend to miss the diagnosis of liquor smell and lead to legal and personal consequences. In the absence of special training on detection of smell of liquor, these consequences could not be justified. The smell of liquor is subjective and cannot be reproduced. Therefore, for confirmation, we recommend introducing scientific methods such as blood analysis or non-invasive urine, saliva or sweat analysis. Our data may help to convince medico-legal policymakers to adopt a change.
How to Cite: Gunathilake, T.B.K.M. and Vidanapathirana, M., 2019. Medicolegal significance of using smell of liquor as an indicator of alcohol consumption. Medico-Legal Journal of Sri Lanka, 7(1), pp.8–14. DOI:
Published on 26 Jun 2019.
Peer Reviewed


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