Cocktail Condoms

They're protective covers that go over your drink and "protect" against someone trying to slip a Mickey Finn (or whatever they're called these days):

The concept behind the cocktail cover is fairly simply. About the size of a coaster, it can be used to cap a drink that goes unattended. When a person returns to a beverage, there is a layer that can be pulled back, leaving a thin sheath protecting the cocktail. That can be punctured with a straw or pulled off entirely -- either way the drinker will know that the cocktail has not been tampered with.

I'm sure there are many ways to defeat this security device if you're so inclined: a syringe, affixing a new cover after you tamper with the drink, and so on. And this is exactly the sort of rare risk we're likely to overreact to. But to me, the most interesting aspect of this story is the agenda. If these things become common, it won't be because of security. It will be because of advertising:

Barry said that companies could advertise on the cocktail covers, likely covering the cost of production. Each cover, he said, costs less than 10 cents to make.

Posted on June 25, 2007 at 6:25 AM • 42 Comments

Comments

AnonymousJune 25, 2007 7:03 AM

Bruce wrote: "And this is exactly the sort of rare risk we're likely to overreact to."

I wish it were that rare but it's not.

Furthermore, consider the balancing act. Balance the risk on one hand, versus the results if the risk happens plus the costs to prevent on the other. The result of a mickey finn is generally rape plus possible STD, plus, for women, possible pregnancy - very bad result. The cost to prevent, using the drink cover, is cheap. Sounds like a good deal to me.

KieranJune 25, 2007 7:06 AM

Anon, do you really believe that drug rape is not rare? Most bar staff will tell you that they've never seen a real case, just lots of very drunk idiots complaining that they were spiked because they've forgotten how much they've had to drink.

WooJune 25, 2007 7:09 AM

The cost to prevent is exactly zero: Don't let get half-filled glasses out of view, or finish your drink before going to the dance floor.
This item is completely unnecessary, and if it will ever become popular in bars, it's only because beverage companies etc will drop the advertisement-decorated ones off by the crate for free.

Khurt WilliamsJune 25, 2007 7:14 AM

The risk can be mitigated by keeping your drink with you until it is complete.

If you must leave your drink unattended (bathroom, phone call) then toss the current drink and get a new one.

Get your own drinks from the bar tender/sever.

This device will not reduce the risk of someone tampering with the drink before it is presented to you.

RoxanneJune 25, 2007 7:14 AM

Great: sippy cups for grownups!! The downside is, they'll reduce spillage. :-)

You know, gloves were very popular for many years as a means of disease reduction. Do you think they'll make a comeback as a fashion item?

ThomasJune 25, 2007 7:18 AM

@anon
"""The cost to prevent, using the drink cover, is cheap."""

That is, assuming this cover prevents anything.

A false sense of security is a Very Bad Thing!

Paul WiedelJune 25, 2007 7:25 AM

I have my doubts as to how effective this product would be in practice. Are people who have a few drinks in them going to notice whether their drink has been tampered or the advertisement-for-your-safety has been tampered?

John DaviesJune 25, 2007 8:10 AM

Hmm, I could use one of those for keeping the wasps out of my beer in the garden in the summer.

( Or the rain out of the beer at Wimbledon this week! )

DaveJune 25, 2007 8:15 AM

I think they've got some untapped market opportunities - this could solve one of the biggest drinking and driving problems: spilling your drink!

MikeJune 25, 2007 8:15 AM

I agree with the comments that this really does give a false sense of security. There are drink coasters that can test for date rape drugs: http://www.drinksafetech.com.au/pages/ds_coaster.html . I think these are probably a better choice than the "cocktail condom". I don't know the accuracy of these coaster so false negatives could be a real problem. Also, I have every confidence that humanity has the ingenuity to find solutions around just about any security device. Ultimately, the best thing is to never let your drink out of your sight.

AnonymousJune 25, 2007 8:29 AM

@Thomas: "A false sense of security is a Very Bad Thing!"

Yes, especially if it causes one to be more careless. They may be more likely to leave their drink out of sight, making it easier to tamper with. Sort of like the people who don't worry about activiating links and files because they have virus scan.

Sez MeJune 25, 2007 8:29 AM

@Thomas: "A false sense of security is a Very Bad Thing!"

Yes, especially if it causes one to be more careless. They may be more likely to leave their drink out of sight, making it easier to tamper with. Sort of like the people who don't worry about activiating links and files because they have virus scan.

Matthew SkalaJune 25, 2007 8:41 AM

Alcohol is the most popular date rape drug by several orders of magnitude. The others are practically non-existent by comparison. What are we doing to protect women from drinking alcohol in bars?

guvn'rJune 25, 2007 8:45 AM

anecdotal evidence is notoriously variable and subjective, but there appears to be some basis for believing this is not as uncommon as we'd like to believe.

Of course bars and society in general wouldn't want to acknowledge it as a widespread problem if in fact it was.

Is there any objective information about the frequency with which this sort of malicious attack occurs?

Pointers, anyone, please?

Anon, first posterJune 25, 2007 8:45 AM

@Kieran - I got my data from the other side: hospitals and government. Date-rate-drug rapes are less common than too-drunk-to-say-yes rapes but the incidence is nontrivial. I'm not at my main computer so don't have the links, dammit.

How do bar staff know, what training/expertise do they have? In any event, I detest anecdotal "evidence."

One advantage to the drink condoms over the testing coasters is that the drink condoms are not drug-specific. I say use both. And some care with your drink as well.

Ditching your drink is foolproof but expensive. It's not reasonable to expect everyone to do it. Chugging your drink before dancing or peeing is dangerous for reasons I hope I don't have to enumerate.

As to the false sense of security, it depends on what precautions the drinker was taking before s/he used drink condoms. Imperfect protection may be an improvement.

AnonymousJune 25, 2007 8:45 AM

Considering we are in a world where you can easily purchase male and female condoms, long past the "just say no" society of the past, why not wrap that puppy at the bar?

Ralph LoganJune 25, 2007 8:51 AM

Another easy way to defeat:

Step 1: Cover drink with 'condom'
Step 2: Take pen out of pocket and initial top
Step 3: Take a walk (rest room or dance)
Step 4: Predator takes digital photo of initials/signature
Step 5: Predator comes back next week with perfectly forged duplicates of your initials

AndyJune 25, 2007 8:55 AM

Am I the only person who goes drinking with friends?

Also, if someone is, well, a bit drunk, are they going to be up to operating one of these?

Still, I can see hours of entertainment for drunks sticking them on things they weren't meant to go on.

Alan PorterJune 25, 2007 9:26 AM

It seems to me that if you have to go to these lengths to protect yourself at a bar, then you are hanging out at the wrong places to begin with.

LloydJune 25, 2007 9:56 AM

The discussion here reminds me of a study similar to the one linked to here (can’t find the original study I’m looking for):

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/north_east/6367037.stm

I live in Cardiff, South Wales, UK - the 'binge drinking' capital of Europe and earlier this year the University Hospital carried out a study to find the proliferation of so-called 'date rape drugs'.

They found that in over 80% of cases (it was closer to 90% in the Cardiff-only study), those admitted to hospital after being 'spiked' were in fact just drunk. Also, of the 10-20% of people who were drugged, Ketamine was found to be in a lot of their blood streams… a common ‘recreational’ drug that can also, although rarely, be used as a date rape drug.

The fact is it isn't as high a risk as people seem to think. It’s a terrible crime, yes, but a rare one that commonsense can usually overcome.

dragonfrogJune 25, 2007 10:06 AM

As Roxanne said - they're sippy cups for grownups.

Never mind spiked drinks - if these became commonplace, it would be easier to make your way up to a crowded bar without getting someone's pint poured down your shirt. For frequenters of crowded dance clubs, that could easily make the adverts worthwhile.

Gold FreshJune 25, 2007 10:07 AM

@Matthew Skala

Alcohol is the most popular date rape drug by several orders of magnitude, and used by women to great effect. What are we doing to protect men from women drinking in bars?

AlanJune 25, 2007 10:30 AM

My wife went on a business trip a couple of years ago--one of those big trade conventions. She went to one of those hospitality parties thrown by one of the vendors. She's an attractive woman, and found herself as one of the few women in a sea of men-geeks. She said that she had no more than three drinks in the span of a couple of hours, but had left her drinks unattended while she accepted numerous offers to dance.

Luckily, she was with several co-workers (men) who were able to help get her out of there. She missed part of two of the next days of the convention. She said that she was totally out of it for those two days and was convinced she had been drugged.

Curiously (or not, really), she said that there was another rather attractive woman who was seriously intent on distracting her coworkers. This in a sea of men, with whom she could have had her pick. I believe she was working in cohoots with a nefarious male with whom my wife had contact.

Anecdotal or not: there are some seriously bad people out there wanting to take advantage and do bad things.

Order your own drinks. Have them brought to you directly by a server. If you think there's something wrong with it: don't drink it. If you leave it out of your sight for any period of time: don't drink it. If someone is paying you an inordinate amount of time, while someone is doing the same with your companions: be suspicious.

My wife's experience could have (and I'm convinced--would have) turned tragically.

The drink condom gives you a false sense of security which is worse than no/little security at all.

NMJune 25, 2007 11:22 AM

"I wish it were that rare but it's not."

And your proof for this is ...?

A recent british survey looked at a few hundred women who claimed to have been drugged and then abused. They analysed blood samples that had been taken at the hospital. All of them had massive alcohol levels, taken voluntarily. None of them contained roofies. A minority contained other drugs, mostly IIRC ingested voluntarily.

In other words, cocktail condoms wouldn't reduce rape. Not getting piss drunk would.

AlanJune 25, 2007 11:51 AM

@Mike:

Yes, I believe my wife. I'm about 99% certain that for her to have done/said otherwise would have been EXTREMELY uncharacteristic of her.

That said, don't think that I didn't--at least for a moment--consider otherwise. ;)

JeffMJune 25, 2007 12:03 PM

This does not take into account the fact that the bartender might have spiked your drink.

Nor does having a drinking container with you and drinking only from that... preferably something you can keep on yourself even if you do go dancing, to the bathroom, or whatever... but I would think that that you be a better idea.

Woefully, I fear you are correct: the condoms may or may not help... but that will be tangential to the fact that you can put ads on them, so advertisers will start saying what a great idea they are, more motivated by a new ad space than actual effectiveness.

PaulJune 25, 2007 12:37 PM

All this does is offer a false sense of security.

Keeping the drink with you or in sight at all times between bartender and mouth is by far the best solution to this problem, making it really rather unlikely that someone can slip you a mickey, unless you're so drunk that you don't notice it happen. If you're that badly impaired, you don't need to be drugged to be taken advantage of anyway and you don't need to be drinking *anything* more, spiked or not.

Back in my drinking days, I always made a point of keeping my drink near at hand and making sure that the only time I left an unattended glass was when it was empty or was in the care of someone I *completely* trusted to keep it safe for me.

Admittedly this wasn't intended to avoid having my drinks spiked, though it certainly stopped that from ever happening. My concern was more that when I returned from the bathroom, some bugger would have *stolen* my drink because they were too cheap to buy their own!

Sure, you can get into the possibility that the bartender could slip you one. The only solution to *that* would be never to go to a bar in the first place.

frog51June 25, 2007 1:13 PM

I'm with Geoff on this - why would you go drinking on your own? Why would you ever leave a non-empty glass? Even if you need to visit the bathroom, wait until you finish the drink, or take it with you.

All simple - although the only one that could protect you fully is attentive friends.

Catullus 5June 25, 2007 2:35 PM

Suppose companies do hand out these covers by the boxload. The easier it is for a woman (or other potential victim) to obtain one, the easier it is for an attacker to obtain an identical one. Remove, spike, replace with new.

Maybe each cover could have a unique serial number. A woman would simply read the number, remember it, then read it again when she returns, while intoxicated, in low light.

derfJune 25, 2007 3:26 PM

The TSA is a good analogy for the drink condom. It covers the entrances to the airplanes and purports to provide security. In reality, TSA prevents a secondhand market for airline "non-refundable" tickets by requiring ID and ticket to match. This makes the airlines money. The liquids policy requires any liquids be bought in the lucrative airport provided bars, restaurants, and vending machines which have little or no extra security. This makes the airports more money.

Neiither of these policies make any real difference in security, just like the drink condom.

simongabrielJune 25, 2007 4:21 PM

I find it funny that no one yet has mentioned the potential liability for these. What bar wants to stock something that they can be then potentially liable for, when it does not, in fact, work.

And more to the point, when it is circumvented, who is liable? I see lawsuits a plenty with this product.

BobJune 26, 2007 6:41 AM

Ridiculous. It's hard enough getting some people to use real condoms, where the risk*consequence is actually worth worrying about. The idea that people would use these things is as laughable as the idea that bars would actually hand these things out! "Come to our bar, but watch out for our resident rapists!"

dragonfrogJune 26, 2007 11:02 AM

@ frog51

"Why would you go drinking alone?"

Wait, I think I know this one - because you feel like having a drink, and you're on your own at the time.

@ Geoff Lane

"Who the hell puts down a non-empty glass?"

People who aren't paralytically afraid of the world.

I'm with the poo-poo-ers on this one - this is a non-solution to a non-risk.

WayneJune 27, 2007 9:38 PM

The weekend after Mother's Day, my niece almost died of alcohol poisoning. She was taken to the ER with a 0.242 blood alcohol level after going to a party at a friend's house. She'll be a senior in highschool this coming Fall and she's known the boy who hosted the party since the 4th grade.

She remembers taking one drink and waking up in the ER. When the cops broke in to the house, she was unconscious in the floor, next to a pool of her vomit. The boy spent at least 3 weeks in jail with something like 14 charges laid against him.

Fortunately there was no indications of rape, though it's possible that it was on the agenda for later that night.

It's possible that she drank all that alcohol, but she weighs about 100 lbs and frankly, I don't think she could. This drink condom wouldn't do any good because the punch was spiked, and I don't think it'll do any good in public. The best security is to take a friend who isn't going to drink to keep an eye on you and the people that you're with. That, or bring a 12-pack of Diet Coke and never set down your can.

David HarmonJune 28, 2007 8:44 AM

The big flaw with the cocktail condoms, as alluded to above, is shared with a lot of other "public safety" bogomemes: It treats a targeted attack as an environmental hazard.

Slapping a condom on your drink *might* protect the user (not anyone else) from:

* some passing stoner who decided it'd be cool to toss around a few LSD microdots.
* some fratboy who's decided to grab some tail "off the roof" (that is, drug a random woman)
* a drunken buddy playing a "prank".
* etc for other "casual attacks", or someone looking for a particularly vulnerable victim. Of course, many of these attackers will just move on to the next barstool.

It will not stop:

* Premeditated attacks (both Alan's and Wayne's accounts).
* Professional attacks (presumably Alan's)
* Predatory attacks (arguably Wayne's)
* "Punch-bowl attacks" (possibly Wayne's).
* Betrayal of trust in general, including "bartender attacks"
* Targeting of the naive or vulnerable, especially people who are already drunk or stoned.

X the UnknownJune 28, 2007 10:39 AM

@Catullus 5: "Maybe each cover could have a unique serial number. A woman would simply read the number, remember it, then read it again when she returns, while intoxicated, in low light."

And, of course, these would be manufactured with the expectation of selling billions: how good are we at remembering a random 10-digit password for one-time use? (As you said, in low light while drunk.)

askariJune 29, 2007 1:40 PM

the prevalence of spiking drinks in bars does have a regional variance. in East Africa it is quite common and i personally know of a number of instances of this as a precursor to robbery.

culturally it is a very acceptable option to robbery with violence especially for some of the bar girls and your average "duka la dawa" stocks a whole host of pharmacological concoctions that would normally require a doctors prescription.

in an East African environment i do think however that the risks posed by "being spiked" are probably on a par with those encountered when ingesting large volumes of microbes associated with sticky bits of film and African hygiene standards - am sure they would find a way to recycle them!

essentially for these types of risk the main principal is to be aware of your environment and adopt a posture accordingly - in this environment hang on to your drink and don't fall for any distraction methods used by some of the bar girls.

the worrying thing with these ridiculous gadgets is that they may even encourage a sense of complacency and the people who use them may disregard something that would normally make them step back and think.

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