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The Local Government Association has issued a warning following council seizures of counterfeit vodka from shops and storage facilities.
The LGA said 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.
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.”
The LGA said 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.