Fake vodka 'can kill you' warning to Christmas shoppers

bottles of fake vodka Fake vodka can look exactly like the real thing

Related Stories

Christmas shoppers trying to save money are being warned to look out for counterfeit alcohol, which can seriously damage health.

Trading standards say it may contain chemicals such as chloroform or industrial alcohol, which can affect eyesight, or in extreme cases, kill.

Seizures of counterfeit vodka in some areas doubled over the last year.

Typically it is sold in corner shops where unscrupulous owners sell it from underneath the counter.

It has also been found on sale in nightclubs.

"I was silly enough to buy some stuff from under the counter, which was clearly not a proper manufactured product," admits Alex Kohnert, a student at Sheffield University.

Fake vodka seizures in Sheffield

  • 2011/12: 554 bottles
  • 2012/13: 1,470
  • 2013/14: 2,370

"I have friends who've suffered from temporary blindness, in one case, but also quite bad stomach pains," he told the BBC.

13,000 litres

Trading Standards staff in Sheffield have been particularly aggressive in trying to tackle the problem.

Since April this year they have found 2,300 bottles of illicit alcohol, mostly vodka. That is double the amount they found last year, which in turn was double what they found in 2011.

Usually it contains alcohols used in cleaning fluids or antifreeze. As a result, such bottles can contain up to 57% alcohol.

"It's not tested. There's no quality control," says Ian Ashmore of Trading Standards.

shop 674 bottles of fake vodka were found at this corner shop

"These are often criminals that are manufacturing this. They're not concerned about the consumer's health. So it can contain virtually anything," he says.

In once recent case, a shopkeeper in the Richmond area of Sheffield was fined £582, including costs, for keeping 674 bottles of counterfeit vodka under the counter.

The council called the fine derisory.

Nerve damage

The problem is now becoming apparent elsewhere across the country too.

Start Quote

You can lose your eyesight; you can lose your ability to walk like a normal person; You can lose your life.”

End Quote Dr Sarah Jarvis Drinkaware

In August, a nightclub in Leeds was fined for stocking vodka containing chloroform, an anaesthetic which can make you feel dizzy, and even cause a drinker to lose consciousness.

In September, HMRC seized 13,000 litres of counterfeit vodka in Scotland, one of the largest such seizures ever.

It was being transported from Belfast and the lorry was intercepted as it left the ferry at Cairnryan.

In December 2013, the owner of a nightclub in Chelmsford was fined after selling fake Smirnoff which he had bought from a van just outside the club.

Doctors warn that any fake alcohol which contains methanol can be particularly dangerous.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, who advises the organisation Drinkaware, says it can cause nerve damage, giving the victim symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

"You can lose your eyesight; you can lose your ability to walk like a normal person; you can lose your life," she told the BBC.

"Tripple distilled" Check for spelling mistakes on the bottle
How to spot it

Spotting a fake is not always easy. Most illegal manufacturers try and imitate the UK duty paid stamp, although often it is the wrong size.

One bottle of vodka we saw claimed to come from an area called "Russia-Berlin", which ought to ring alarm bells.

Others had spelling mistakes, wonky labels, and even sediment in the bottle.

But some bottles looked exactly like their genuine counterparts, such as Smirnoff or Selekt. Some had an extremely pungent aroma.

Price is another good indicator. The duty and VAT alone on a legitimate 70cl bottle of vodka total £8.89.

"So if you see a bottle on sale for any less than £9.50, I would be inspecting it," said Ken Webb, an enforcement officer with Trading Standards.

Becca Barnes, a welfare officer at Sheffield University, is particularly concerned about students who tank themselves up early in the evening.

Russia- Berlin origin Some fake vodka appears to have an unusual origin

"We've had students who've started drinking before a night out," she says.

"Our advice is to look carefully at the prices as you shop."

Drinkware advises shoppers to think of four 'Ps':

  • Place: Buy in a reputable location.
  • Price: If it is too cheap, be careful.
  • Packaging: Check if the labels are correct, or have been tampered with.
  • Product: If it smells or looks bad, do not drink it.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    Zambian copper Via Twitter BBC World News

    tweets: Don't worry she was earthed - the BBC's Lucy Burton reporting from a copper mine in Zambia today for @bbcworldservice (Listen here from 17:30)

    12:01: Skymark jump

    Shares in Skymark Airlines jumped 26% following a report that the Japanese carrier was in talks with Japan Airlines. Nikkei business daily's online edition said the firm was negotiating code-sharing with Japan Airlines on some routes.

    11:44: Public sector borrowing

    According to the ONS, income and capital gains tax receipts rose 1% to £10.5bn in October. Meanwhile, another bundle of receipts including corporation tax receipts rose to £7.5bn in the month - but an increase of just £100m compared to the same month a year ago. The Treasury had been hoping for a bit more of a bump this year, particularly from the oil and gas industry.

    Bank account raids Via Email

    HM Revenue & Customs says: "Plans to recover tax and tax credit debts directly from the bank accounts of people and businesses who refuse to pay what they owe will include strong safeguards to protect vulnerable taxpayers... A consultation on the plans published in May included a significant number of guarantees to provide certainty to taxpayers, such as only applying the powers to established debts and only targeting debtors who have repeatedly ignored attempts to make contact."

    11:15: China rates

    The People's Bank of China said it will lower its one-year benchmark lending rate by 0.4 percentage points to 5.6%, its first cut in two years. The Australian dollar surged to the day's high and London-listed shares in mining companies jumped by 3-4%.

    10:59: Public sector borrowing

    But what about the whole lot all together? In October, public sector net debt excluding public sector banks was £1,449.2 billion, or £1.45tn as we say, and 79.5% of GDP, an increase of £97.1bn compared with a year earlier. That's £3bn lower than the previous month and that's because Lloyds Bank has been reclassified a private sector body after the government started to sell out its stake in the bank earlier this year.

    10:46: Hornby earnings
    Hornby share graph

    Shares in toymaker Hornby are up 1.4% today to 73p on the back of its better than expected half year earnings. Earlier, it said it had halved its losses to £520,000 compared with a year earlier. Hornby also said sales were much improved: up 8% to £24.2m in the period.

    10:32: Public sector borrowing

    This financial year's borrowing target is £95.5bn, so with six months of the year left and the government already having borrowed £64.1bn, it still looks less likely the Treasury will hit its target. The question economists and MPs alike will begin to ask now will be, just how much will the government miss its target by?

    10:15: Public sector borrowing
    Graph showing public sector borrow

    The above chart tells you all you need to know about the current state of government borrowing. The blue dot is where the government wants to get to. The red dot above it is last year's borrowing. And the blue line trending up above all of those is the actual path of government borrowing at the moment. Safe to say the Treasury is hoping for a big dip in the graph in January.

    10:04: Public sector borrowing

    Borrowing increased at a slightly slower rate in October compared with the a month earlier, the Office For National Statistics has said. Public borrowing rose between April and October by £3.7bn. That compares with £5.4bn in April to September - which was a full 10% higher than a year earlier at that point. So borrowing has narrowed slightly.

    09:48: Engineering BBC Radio 4

    Sir James added: "We do need to keep certain people here, who come to our universities. They come to our universities because they like Britain, they want to study engineering and science and develop new technology in Britain, and I think we should encourage to stay here. So I would change our immigration laws to allow the right sort of people to stay here - people we desperately need."

    Public sector borrowing Breaking News

    The government borrowed £7.7bn in October, official figures show. That's a decrease of £0.2bn compared with the same month a year earlier.

    09:28: Engineering BBC Radio 4

    More from Sir James Dyson. He's not a fan of the European Union (EU). He thinks the EU is "dominated by Germany". "In our particular field we have very large German companies who dominate standard setting and any reduction committees and so we get the old guard and old technology supported and not new technology. So I don't like a Europe dominated by Germany. I don't see that we need to be dominated and bullied by the Germans."

    Twitter talk Via Twitter Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

    tweets: About to talk to Twitter and Square founder @jack about his plan to storm the UK cash register market

    09:03: Engineering BBC Radio 4

    Sir James Dyson has been talking to the Today programme about his company's plans to invest in the UK. He wants to boost engineering in the UK, he says. He says the majority of engineering researchers at British universities come from overseas. "We must encourage them to stay here and work for companies like Dyson and create wealth and technology here in Britain," he adds.

    08:50: Bank account raids
    Chancellor George Osborne r

    George Osborne will announce a series of climbdowns over controversial plans to allow the taxman to seize money directly from people's bank accounts, according to the Daily Mail. It reports the Chancellor will agree to introduce new safeguards designed to prevent misuse of the powers, expected to be applied to around 17,000 "persistent" non-payers a year. People will have to have a face-to-face visit from a tax official before money can be clawed back as well, it says.

    08:35: Market update

    In London, the FTSE 100 Index is up 0.17% to 6690.03, where the number-two riser is Rolls-Royce with their new engine order. Germany's Dax is up 0.36% to 9518.41 and the Cac in Paris rose 0.25% to 4244.97.

    08:21: Public borrowing BBC Radio 4

    So why low wage growth? Part of the problem is that the jobs being created in the economy are "relatively low paying" says Mr Tombs. He thinks it would be very hard for the government to pay for a rise in the personal tax allowance to £12,500 as the Prime Minister promised in his Conservative party conference speech in the next parliament without there being significantly bigger cuts in government department budgets.

    08:05: Public borrowing BBC Radio 4

    More from Mr Tombs: He says the Chancellor's borrowing target for this financial year is "completely out of reach". Borrowing would have to come down by a third in order, over the next six months, for the government to meet its target. "The real problem has been income tax receipts," he says. "They've been extremely weak and that's partly because we have seen very weak growth in average earnings across the economy But also the rise in the personal tax allowance has cost rather more than was expected."

    07:50: Public borrowing BBC Radio 4

    "We are expecting a small improvement [this month] in borrowing compared to the previous year. October is a particularly important month for corporation tax receipts and they have actually been growing at quite a healthy rates so far this year. Perhaps £7.5bn [in borrowing] compared to £7.8bn last year," Samuel Tombs, senior economist at Capital Economics tells the Today programme.

    07:35: Hornby earnings
    Hornby train sets in a toy shop

    Toy maker Hornby has reported a near 50% reduction in losses for the six months to the end of September to £520,000 - it lost £1.09m for the same period a year earlier. In June the Scalextric owner reported pre-tax losses increased to £4.5m from £2.5m a year earlier. New boss Richard Ames has embarked on a turnaround, since taking over in April. In the summer the firm announced it had ended its contract with a Chinese company after supply chain problems.

    Dulux boss Via Twitter Simon Jack Business correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: "Friday boss Matt Pullen runs Dulux hear him on dog, business and paint names like Sumatran Melody"

    07:14: Rolls-Royce deal

    Rolls-Royce has agreed a $5bn deal for engines with Delta Air Lines. New Trent XWB engines will power 25 Airbus A350s and Trent 7000 engines will power 25 Airbus A330neo aircraft.

    06:59: Market update

    Tokyo stocks closed higher by 0.33% as investors study Japan's preparation for an election next month. The Nikkei 225 index at the Tokyo Stock Exchange gained 56.65 points to 17,357.51, while the Topix index edged up 0.18%, or 2.54 points, to 1,400.18. In Hong Kong the benchmark Hang Seng Index edged up 25.42 points to 23,375.06.

    Banker's pay Via Twitter Simon Jack Business correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: "George Osborne's letter to Mark Carney on problems of higher fixed pay for bankers."

    06:39: Engineering boost BBC Radio 4
    James Dyson

    James Dyson is announcing a £1.5bn investment and has started building a new factory at the Dyson HQ in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. He has said it will eventually provide 3,000 new engineering jobs and he hopes it will lead to hundreds of new products being developed there. He'll be speaking to the Today programme later on this morning.

    06:24: Public borrowing Radio 5 live

    Karen Campbell of accountants Grant Thornton on Wake Up to Money says government borrowing is higher because tax receipts are down. Lower wage growth, lower stamp duty and lower gas and oil revenues have all caused tax to be down.

    06:14: Foreign direct investment Radio 5 live

    Foreign investment grew quicker in Wales last year than anywhere else in Britain, according to UKTI figures. Marc Evans is chief executive of Sure Chill and is on Wake Up to Money. His company has benefited from investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Doing business in mid-Wales brings benefits, he says, but "it takes a little longer to get to the airport".

    06:02: Shale gas Radio 5 live

    "Are we serious about finding alternative energy?" asks David Buik, city analyst on Wake Up to Money. It's clean energy, he says. "The infrastructure is all there" when it comes to Ineos, he says.

    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning! Get in touch via bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on twitter @BBCBusiness.

    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. We have the latest public sector finance figures later this morning. But before that there are half year earnings from toy maker Hornby and brewer Fullers. Stay with us.



From BBC Capital


  • Cattle herded in AustraliaThe Travel Show Watch

    The spectacle of herding 2,000 cattle using bikes, cars and a helicopter

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.