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Is bootleg vodka putting your life in danger?

21st August 2012

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In this tight economic climate it might seem like a good money saving tip to buy a fake brand of alcohol - but it could cost you a lot more in the future.

Bootleg alcohol is made illegally by unlicensed traders, so there is no regulation or control as to what they put into it.

Counterfeit alcohol recently seized in Derby contained seven times the permitted levels of cadmium, which can cause kidney damage, and six times the permitted levels of lead, which can harm the nervous and reproductive systems.

Also discovered in Derby was fake Drop Vodka which contained isopropyl alcohol - which is normally used as a cleaning fluid - and acetone, which is nail polish remover.

A chemical that is commonly found in bootleg alcohol is Methanol, or wood alcohol, which is used in anti-freeze. Methanol has a very similar odour to drinkable alcohol so is hard to detect, but it can be highly dangerous even when drunk small quantities.

Methanol is purple so it is mixed with bleach to make it clear and it is usually found in fake vodka.

If drunk, it can leave you blind and with kidney damage and if a large amount is drunk it can even cause death.

A consultant at Lincoln County Hospital, Vikas Sodiwala, told the BBC that patients were being admitted to hospital with dizziness, nausea, stomach pains, vomiting and blurred vision after drinking counterfeit alcohol.

He said they told him they had bought it at off-licences, drank it at a party, or even bought it from car boot sales.

"Methanol can attack the optic nerve at the back of the eye. This is what can affect a person's vision and in some cases make them blind," he said.

"I'm hearing this is now a nationwide problem and other colleagues in the East Midlands are reporting an increase in patients who don't realise they've consumed industrial alcohol not vodka."

In a recent crackdown on counterfeit goods, shopkeepers, cafes and pubs were targeted in London in operation Condor, where thousands of premises were searched for unlicensed and illicit goods.

A Metropolitan Police Press Officer said: “During the course of the operation more than 1,500 officers from boroughs and specialist units worked on Operation Condor, using a range of tactics to bring unlicensed activity to account.

“Among the items seized were 50 Litres of counterfeit vodka in Forest Gate and 250 cases of alcohol in Islington.”

Unlicensed and fake alcohol brands are costing both the NHS and the drinks industry millions of pounds.

Trading Standards are warning students especially to be careful when drinking and to be on the lookout for bootleg alcohol. Their advice is to be sensible and don’t buy from people who approach you with an offer of cheap alcohol.

If buying from an off-licence and the price seems too good to be true, check the label to make sure it is safe to drink. If it looks like the label is made cheaply or has a spelling error, if you have an iPhone you can scan the barcode and see if it does come up as the correct product.

Although the recent discoveries of bootleg alcohol factories has rocked in the last few years the police and Trading Standards are working hard to ensure the problem is tackled and does not become a nationwide epidemic.

An Association of Chief Police Officer spokesperson said of the issue: “The police service works closely with HMRC to tackle the problem of illicit and counterfeit alcohol which is available in our communities.

“All intelligence is taken seriously and forces work with local authorities to reduce the availability of illegal alcohol to the public.”

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