In Devon, Somerset and Cornwall pubs, clubs, off-licences and punters have been told to report any suspicious bottles of spirits to authorities, after counterfeit Smirnoff vodka was sold to customers in the area.
Trading Standards officers were alerted to the batch of fake spirits after nightclub punters came forward, claiming the vodka that was sold to them smelled of either acetone or nail polish.
On closer inspection, the labelling and packaging of the vodka was visibly different from authentic bottles, while tests of the spirits showed that it contained traces of industrial solvents, similar to those found in anti-freeze products and screen wash.
Ingesting these solvents can be potentially fatal depending on how much is consumed, and can cause stomach pain, sickness, dizziness and in some cases, blindness.
Devon County councillor Roger Croad, who covers trading standards issues, warned that revellers should remain cautious when buying alcohol, especially if they think they've found a Christmas bargain.
"Pubs, clubs, off-licences and consumers should be aware that if they are offered vodka which is too cheap, it is unlikely to be genuine. Counterfeit vodka can cause serious health problems and we would urge local traders to check their stock and ensure that they can trace the products they sell to a reliable source," he said.
Britain — A Smuggler's Paradise?
Although the discovery of the new batch of counterfeit spirits has raised fresh concerns, it's certainly not the first time people in the UK have seen counterfeit goods smuggled into the country.
Alcohol smuggling and bootlegging is seen as a growing problem in Britain, with government estimates suggesting that the UK loses £1 billion annually in tax revenue through the smuggling and sale of illegal alcohol.
A number of large-scale alcohol bootlegging operations valued at millions of pounds have been shut down in recent years as investigators look to crack down on smuggling. Earlier this month, more than £30,000 worth of illegal tobacco was seized during a swoop on two shops in Somerset.
Meanwhile, in centuries past, the English counties of Devon and Cornwall in the country's southwest earned a particular reputation as a smuggler's paradise, with the region's deep coves and beaches providing cover for the many merchant ships to smuggle in tin, wool, and — you guessed it — alcohol.
Although prominent in Devon and Cornwall, it wasn't just the south-western regions of Britain that took part in smuggling, with similar operations in place all over the country — between Northern Ireland and British west coast, and in the eastern regions and Channel Islands, where goods were smuggled across the English Channel to and from mainland Europe.
The smugglers — they preferred the term ‘free traders' — prided themselves on outsmarting the authorities and getting their goods in and out of the southwest, subsequently avoiding laws and import taxes in the process.
Although time has passed it seems that there are some parallels in the motives of modern-day smugglers and the pirates of yesteryear.
However, the sale and distribution of harmful and counterfeit alcohol is a more sinister problem affecting people in Britain, which is gaining increased attention from authorities.
As smugglers look to make easy money bringing in and selling illegal and counterfeit goods, the advice for punters is to take an extra-long look at what they'll be drinking for this year's Christmas toast, just to ensure the Christmas cheer doesn't turn sour.