Pepsi Cola Tears

In a country stricken with significant and frequent political unrest, it is understandable why so many Iraqi citizens rise up to defend their beliefs, human rights and personal safety by coming together to protest.

A shared practice in countries all over the world, protests often begin peacefully, but can quickly turn into violent and dangerous situations. In an attempt to reduce the danger, police and armed forces often throw tear gas at the crowd of protestors.

What is tear gas?

Tear gas is the commonly used name for a group of gasses containing chemicals that cause irritation to the eyes, nose, mouth, skin and windpipe. This irritation can lead to discomfort, pain and redness in these areas, as well as producing teary eyes – hence the name “tear gas”.

Although we already knew about the use of tear gas in many protests worldwide, what we didn’t know was how the Iraqi people were using a simple, yet innovative method to help reduce the irritating effects of the chemicals in the gas. This method is Pepsi Cola.

A black icon of a pepsi cola bottle

Through speaking to the community, we learnt that many people who have come into contact with tear gas flock towards corner shops to get their hands on Pepsi Cola bottles, which has become their go-to face wash during protests. After learning about this remarkable solution, we wanted to know – what’s the science behind this? And does it stop at Pepsi Cola face wash, or is Sprite and Fanta an option too?

What's the science?

Unfortunately, no medical research has been conducted on the effect Pepsi Cola can have on tear-gas chemicals and irritation. Despite this however, people have been using Pepsi Cola, alongside many other household liquids, to try and reduce the irritation for many years.

In the 1980s, Communist guerrillas in Salvador wore handkerchiefs around their face that were soaked in lemon juice, to try and tackle the effects of the tear gas, while activists at the Free Trade Association of the Americas summit in 2001 used bandanas soaked in vinegar.

The thinking behind using Pepsi Cola, lemon juice, vinegar and other liquids is that it is believed that the acidity of these liquids help neutralise the tear gas, thereby reducing the irritating effects it can have.

This isn’t a confirmed theory though. Some even believe that it may actually be that any bandana or handkerchief worn around the mouth can reduce the tear gas particles from entering the windpipe in the first place, and that’s what actually reduces its effect, not the liquid in which it is covered in.

There are also suggestions that the use of Pepsi Cola and other acidic liquids distract the protestor from the choking and stinging of the tear gas, therefore helping them more in a psychological way, rather than in a physical way.

What should you do if you're exposed to tear gas?

Despite there being no solid scientific research conducted into the actual benefits of using Pepsi Cola or other acidic liquids to reduce the irritating effects of tear gas, many people seem to find that it works. However, although this may be an easy and quick solution, it is still important to take other actions to prevent the tear gas chemicals causing more harm to your body.

Below are 5 tips outlined from the company Aftermath , who specialize in trauma and biohazard cleaning. They recommend the following actions for people who come into contact with tear gas:

Leave the gas-filled area

Do this as soon as possible to reduce your exposure to the chemicals.

Remove your clothing

Your clothing will have traces of the chemicals on them, so removing them will reduce your body’s exposure to these irritating chemicals.

If you're going to wash, use cold water

As much as possible try to avoid using HOT water. Hot water will open up the pores in your skin, making it easier for the chemicals to enter deeper into your skin and cause more irritation.

Blow your nose

You should also try to spit out any chemicals that may have entered your mouth.

Seek medical attention

If you can, try to get medical help by going to a hospital, or going to see a doctor. You should always try to leave the neutralisation of the chemicals to medical professionals.

We sincerely hope that you, nor your friends or family ever have to experience the effects of tear gas, but having an understanding of the ways in which you can reduce their harm immediately after exposure is really important for the community to know, as certain types of tear gas have been known to cause death.

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  1. Blain, P. (2003). Tear Gases and Irritant Incapacitants. Toxicological Reviews, 22(2), pp.103-110.
  2. Aftermath.com. (2020). What are Some Tear Gas Exposure Treatments?. [online] Available at: https://www.aftermath.com/content/tear-gas-exposure-treatment/ [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
  3. Aftermath.com. (2020). 4 Tips to Neutralize Tear Gas | Aftermath Services. [online] Available at: https://www.aftermath.com/content/tear-gas-neutralizer/ [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
  4. Palmer, B. (2011). Can You Really Fight Off Tear Gas With a Can of Soda?. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2011/02/tear-gas-and-coke-can-the-protesters-in-egypt-really-protect-themselves-with-soda.html [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
  5. Stopyra, J., Winslow III, J., Johnson III, J., Hill, K. and Bozeman, W. (2018). Baby Shampoo to Relieve the Discomfort of Tear Gas and Pepper Spray Exposure: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 19(2), pp.294-300.
  6. Moroni Bracamonte, J. and Spencer, D. (1995). Strategy and tactics of the Salvadoran FMLN guerrillas. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, pp.135 – 136.
  7. Parekh, P. (2001). Fighting the FTAA: Quebec City, 2001. [online] Mit.edu. Available at: https://www.mit.edu/~thistle/v13/4/quebec.html [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
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