Editor’s Note: As is true for counterfeit cigarettes, counterfeit alcohol is also a threat to public health. The notion of counterfeiting as a “victimless” crime that only harms tax authorities is a myth.
Staffordshire people preparing for new year festivities are being urged to be vigilant if buying alcohol to avoid potentially lethal counterfeit products.
The county council’s continuing operation to stamp out the sale of counterfeit alcohol has resulted in 21 prosecutions and licence reviews which have led to shop keepers having licences revoked and fines. The largest fine handed out was £10,000.
Last year, following reports of counterfeit alcohol being sold in the north of Staffordshire, the trading standards team launched its operation and visited every independent off licence in the county. Suspected counterfeit items were seized in 73 stores out of over 400 and tested in the county council’s laboratories.
Staffordshire’s communities leader Pat Corfield said: “Our battle against the sale of counterfeit alcohol has been extensive and effective.
“It was vital for us to protect people from these dangerous counterfeit items, raise awareness, protect legitimate business and remove as much of this stuff from Staffordshire as possible.
“The last thing we want to see is someone’s new year ruined as a result of drinking hazardous counterfeit alcohol. One Staffordshire resident who helped us with a prosecution was told by his GP that he risked losing his sight at any point in six months after drinking counterfeit alcohol which must have been horrendous. We have since learned of the first death in the country which has been attributed to counterfeit alcohol consumption in Sussex.
“We also want to send a strong message to traders that we will not tolerate the sale of counterfeit goods and will pursue those that do.
“By acting decisively we have been able to make Staffordshire a safer place to live where legitimate businesses can prosper, both of which are top priorities for the county council.”
Pat added that tell-tale signs of counterfeit alcohol include:
• Unfamiliar or unheard of brands
• Suspect labelling which may not be aligned straight or have spelling mistakes
• Have different fill levels in bottles of the same brand
• Have sediment in the liquid which should not be present
Many of the products seized were bottles of counterfeit vodka that contained high levels of methanol – which can cause vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision and in extreme cases blindness. Around 1,800 bottles were seized in total. These will now be safely disposed of in the new year.
Anyone with information on suspected counterfeit goods should contact the county council’s Fakes Hotline on 01785 330356.