New Year’s Eve revellers are being urged to avoid cheap and dangerous fake alcohol being sold by rogue retailers and pubs ahead of the biggest social night of the year.
The Local Government Association (LGA) warning follows recent council seizures of counterfeit vodka – including from home-based sellers, shops and even some pubs.
Some of the seized bottles of vodka have contained 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 370 councils in 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.
People being served vodka in pubs and clubs should be aware that fake vodka will often smell of nail varnish.
Cllr Morris Bright, Vice Chairman 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.