Fears over 'harmful' fake alcohol on sale across the UK


There's a warning that fake alcohol containing harmful ingredients is being sold in the UK.

The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) says people should take extra care when buying alcohol over Christmas.

Officials say they are extremely concerned about the number of fake bottles being found on sale in off-licences across the UK.

In several areas thousands of litres of illegal alcohol have been recovered in the last few months.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning

    • Confusion
    • Loss of co-ordination
    • Vomiting
    • Irregular or slow breathing
    • Blue-tinged or pale skin
    • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
    • Stupor (being conscious but unresponsive)
    • Unconsciousness (passing out)
Source: Institute of Psychiatry, London

Often the bottles contain chemicals used in cleaning products and experts fear drinking them could be lethal.

More than 2,000 counterfeit bottles were seized during one week of raids across central parts of England in November.

Similar figures have been reported following raids in other areas.

The TSI says it's difficult to work out the scale of the problem, but its chief executive Ron Gainsford says the situation is getting worse.

"We are very concerned about this trend in the availability of fake alcohol," he said. "It is not just about false bargains; counterfeit spirits and wine could be lethal."

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says it's worried people are risking their health by trying to save money.

In some cases it's thought fake bottles of vodka cost as little as £6.

Harmful chemicals

Amy Baskerville is a student from Bristol. Last month she bought what she thought was a cheaper brand of vodka.

"My partner had drunk half of the bottle when he noticed that he wasn't getting drunk," she said.

"We had a sniff and normally vodka has a kick of alcohol but this just smelt like nail varnish remover."

Our bottle of vodka had chloroform, acetone and isopropyl alcohol in it
Amy Baskerville

The 22-year-old says they both felt ill the next day, so contacted Trading Standards, who carried out tests.

"We were told that our bottle had chloroform, acetone and isopropyl alcohol in it.

"It was a couple of pounds cheaper than more well-branded vodkas. It's surprising how you go for the cheapest thing on the shelf."

Some of those chemicals are also found in cleaning products.

Earlier this year five men were killed in an explosion at a garage in Boston in Lincolnshire. They had been making illegal vodka.

Health experts from the county say they're worried about the number of people coming into A&E thinking they've had their drink spiked, but actually they have been poisoned by fake alcohol.

Dr Vikas Sodiwala is a consultant in emergency medicine at Lincoln County hospital.

"We are seeing many more cases of patients coming in having said that their drinks have been spiked and I do think we are seeing an increase in awareness of the illicit alcohol that's out there," he said.

"The worst thing is if you drink too much of this stuff, you can get kidney failure, you can get liver failure. With methanol, particularly, it can lead to permanent blindness."

Have your say on Newsbeat's Facebook page

Facebook grab

Pete Evans - When I was 15 we had a crate of fake booze off a man in our pub. It never made us ill though.

Benji Mclean - We used to buy this fake whiskey, but it gave me a knee problem, felt like an arrow had been jabbed into my knee :( so I stopped buying it.

Andy Jeanes - I got offered some home made vodka in Russia once, but before I got to try it someone spilt theirs and it turned a red floor tile white and melted it. I politely declined.

You can also text Newsbeat on 81199

Alan, Norfolk - While fake alcohol should be a big concern to us all it is only available in SOME small shops. I like most small shop retailers, would not even consider stocking it.

Anonymous - I bought a bottle of wine a few months ago from a corner shop. When I poured it out and took a sip I knew immediately it was not wine.

It was very yellow and tasted strange with notes of acetone and anti-freeze. Not what I usually look for in a wine!

Sean, Southampton - I've had fake vodka before. I had horrible, crippling stomach pains and felt ill for days. Never bought the cheap stuff since.

Guy, south London - if the government keeps hiking the prices of alcohol up then what do they expect?

You can also tweet us your responses @BBCNewsbeat