Several warnings have been issued this week about cheap counterfeit alcohol being sold illegally across the UK. Buying this fake booze may save a few pounds in your pocket but could seriously harm your health or even kill you.

Northumberland County Council is warning drinkers to be vigilant after finding ‘industrial alcohol’ – unfit for human consumption – in cheap vodka on sale in local pubs. The fake vodka was being passed off as Smirnoff Vodka and Glens Vodka.

Counterfeit vodka often contains toxic chemicals such as windscreen washer fluid, nail varnish remover, charcoal and even bleach. If ingested it can trigger vomiting, abdominal pain and drowsiness. More severe cases include liver and kidney failure, coma, blindness and, in extreme cases, death.

Crimestoppers is helping to raise awareness about the dangers of fake vodka. “The criminals that sell this lethal chemical cocktail don’t care about your health,” says the independent charity. “All they want to do is to make a profit. They may even deliberately target areas where young people or students live or socialise.”

It can be hard to know whether a bottle of vodka is fake, but there are a few hints that may make you think twice before buying it. Is it a lot cheaper than you’d expect? Did someone try to sell it to you under the counter? Do you feel particularly unwell after drinking it? Other obvious signs include spelling mistakes on bottle labels, poor quality labelling, improperly sealed caps and fake barcodes.

If you think you’ve been offered a drink of fake vodka, check the smell and taste of the drink. Fake vodka often smells like nail varnish and it usually tastes horrible. It could also contain sediment, whereas pure vodka should always be clear. It’s obviously harder to tell a fake vodka if mixed with other drinks, such as in a fruity punch for example. However, if you feel particularly unwell after drinking vodka, it could be an indication of a fake bottle. The advice is that if you feel ill, don’t hesitate – seek medical help straight away.

Trading Standards has warned sellers of illegal alcohol that they face prosecution and could be stripped of any relevant licences. In a recent raid aimed at thwarting the sale and supply of illegal alcohol, more than 14,000 litres of spirits, wine and beer worth £24,000 was seized from retailers in the Birmingham area. The haul included an estimated 76 litres of spirits, 1860 litres of wine and 23,000 cans of beer.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), said: “The sale of illicit alcohol puts lives at risk and allows criminals to profit while costing the UK over £1 billion each year according to HMRC. Working with Crimestoppers the WSTA is determined to help Crimestoppers clean up the black market for counterfeit alcohol. Although most alcohol retailers are legitimate we urge the public not to take a risk to save a few quid – and to report anything they suspect is fake alcohol to the Crimestoppers alcohol fraud line.”

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