HMRC Vodka illegal
An illegal vodka factory in Cheshire HMRC

New Year's Eve revellers are being warned to watch out for suspiciously cheap or odd-looking bottles of alcohol which may contain counterfeit booze that could cause the unwary tippler to go blind - or worse. Hundreds of thousands of litres of counterfeit booze has been seized recently, much of it carrying the label of some of the most familiar brands.

According to Trading Standards and the Local Government Association (LGA), some of the booze seized has contained anti-freeze, ethyl acetate and chloroform in potentially deadly amounts, which can cause blindness, liver and kidney problems, and even death.

They warn drinkers to make sure the booze they purchase does not have an unfamiliar name, misspellings, wonky labels, or suspiciously low prices. They are also warned to smell spirits such as vodka in bars and clubs as counterfeit brands often smell of nail varnish.

"Everyone likes a bargain, especially at this time of year," said the LGA's Simon Blackburn, "but drinking cheap, fake alcohol could seriously harm your health and even kill you, so people should avoid it all costs. Trading Standards teams at councils across the country have been cracking down on businesses selling illegal, fake alcohol and we will continue to target rogue outlets.

"Some shopkeepers clearly have questions to answer about how these items arrive on their shelves. They need to think twice about stocking these products as we will always seek to prosecute irresponsible traders. Not only does fake alcohol present a significant danger to health, illegal sales undermine local businesses and threaten genuine jobs."

Last August 130,000 litres of fake vodka were seized at an alcohol factory in Wigan. The dangerous fakes were worth an estimated £1.7 million but presented serious health risks. Sandra Smith, assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC, said: "As well as potentially risking the lives of people drinking the fake alcohol, this factory had the capacity to rob taxpayers of millions of pounds in unpaid duty – money which should be spent on vital public services. People buying the counterfeit vodka may have thought they were getting a bargain, but it has been distilled in unregulated conditions and may pose a serious health risk."

On 1 January (2016) a new initiative, Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme, is being launched to combat the growing problem. However that might be too late for some revellers who go to bed blind drunk - and wake up blind.