New Year’s Eve revellers are being urged to avoid cheap and dangerous fake alcohol being sold by rogue retailers ahead of the biggest social night of the year.
The Local Government Association warning follows council seizures of counterfeit vodka from shops and storage facilities.
Some counterfeit bottles of vodka are said to contain industrial strength levels of alcohol which can lead to vomiting, permanent blindness, kidney or liver problems, and in extreme cases, death.
Councils are also warning sellers of illegal alcohol they face prosecution and losing any relevant licences after a series of recent raids on rogue premises.
With partygoers stocking up on alcohol at home and attending big celebrations in towns and city centres, councils are issuing safety advice to help people avoid harm from illegal alcohol.
The LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, is urging shoppers to look out for tell-tale signs that bottles are fake. These include unfamiliar brand names, crooked labels, spelling mistakes, very low prices which are “too good to be true”, different fill levels in bottles of the same brand and sediment in the liquid which should not be present.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:
“It’s appalling that rogue traders selling illegal alcohol are willing to play roulette with the health and wellbeing of their customers by prioritising quick profits above safety.
"We want people to enjoy their New Year’s Eve celebrations, but anyone buying alcohol needs to look out for signs it could be fake because it could leave them seriously ill and, in extreme cases, cost them their life.
“People are advised to only buy alcohol from reputable outlets and be wary of any items being sold at suspiciously cheap prices, as they could be counterfeit.
“Councils target businesses selling fake alcohol all year round, but generally step up operations in the run-up to the festive period when rogue sellers often seek to exploit demand.
“Anyone selling illegal alcohol should think twice about stocking these dangerous drinks as we will always seek to prosecute irresponsible traders and encourage the public to report any suspicious business activities.
“Counterfeit alcohol is not only a serious danger to health, it harms legitimate traders and threatens livelihoods, with the counterfeit market funding organised criminal gangs.”
Alcohol fraud is reported to cost the UK around £1 billion a year. Because they don’t pay tax, fraudsters can undercut legitimate companies.
Retailers selling illegal alcohol could lose their licence, be fined up to £5,000, be jailed for up to 10 years, get a criminal record, ruin their reputation, seriously harm their customers’ health and be liable for the consequences.
Anyone who thinks they have consumed fake alcohol should seek medical advice. The incident should also be reported to the local environmental health officer, by calling Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06, or the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.
- Trading Standards officers from the Royal Borough of Greenwich seized 900 bottles of illegal Smirnoff vodka alongside counterfeit duty stamps from a storage facility. The alcohol was seized and handed over to HMRC to investigate.
- Trading Standards officers at Bolton Council and Greater Manchester Police seized 105 bottles of counterfeit vodka, 11 pouches of illegal handrolling tobacco, 70 illegal cigarettes, and a bag of cannabis from Winter Hey Wines. The owner surrendered the premises licence and the business has closed down. Bolton Council also alerted the HMRC that the owner did not have a valid Alcohol Wholesale Registration Scheme licence (AWRS). HMRC investigated and the owner was fined £12,000 for being in contravention of the AWRS.
- Two people were arrested after West Yorkshire Trading Standards’ team, which is a shared service between councils including Leeds City Council, teamed up with West Yorkshire Police to seize crates of illegally imported alcohol, alongside 250,000 fake cigarettes and tobacco following shop visits across West Yorkshire.
Notes to editors
- Toxic ingredients in counterfeit alcohol often include industrial strengths of isopropanol - more commonly found in antifreeze, lotions and cosmetics - which can lead to dizziness, vomiting, anaesthesia and even blindness, and can leave someone in a coma. Other substances found in fake bottles of spirits include ethyl acetate, which is normally found in glues, nail polish removers and cigarettes, and can lead to organ damage. Acetaldehyde, another compound used in large-scale industrial processes and which occurs naturally in alcoholic beverages, is potentially cancerous if found in too high a volume.