07/11/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT
Going a little heavy on the onion and garlic lately? Notice that people try to keep a football field away when they talk to you? Meet Dr. Etiquette, a pocket-size breath detector that takes the guesswork out of getting close. The device, which contains a semiconductor gas sensor that purports to be more powerful than police breathalyzers, is the brainchild of Yusaku Watanabe, a 53-year-old Japanese businessman-dentist with a keen sense of aroma—and a long commute on a crowded train. Eventually he realized the two could not coexist. "My nose is very sensitive, and the smell was very bad," he says. "I thought people needed a way to know about their problem."
Eight years ago, Watanabe, who heads a health-care products company, teamed up with Masatake Tsunoda, a teacher at Tokyo Dental College and a researcher on the chemical components of bad breath. Dr. Etiquette, the result of their partnership, will retail for about $125 when it reaches the U.S. sometime this fall and is breathtakingly easy to use. Simply exhale for three seconds into the gadget's aperture and wait for the readout: The words "good" or "pass" appear alongside a green light, "warn" rates a yellow and "bad" gets a red.
Dr. Etiquette isn't fail-safe, and since it operates by measuring odor intensity, it may give a "bad" reading to someone who has just munched a mint. Presumably it won't give a green light to someone who has just downed a meal of salami, raw onions and garlic bread.
"There are two types of people who will use my product," predicts Watanabe. "About 40 percent are very nervous people who may not have bad breath but worry about it. The other 60 percent have bad breath and don't worry about it but should." And will, no doubt, as soon as someone introduces them to Watanabe's newest companion on the morning commute.