Independent charity Crimestoppers and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association have launched a Christmas campaign in Newcastle to warn the public about the danger to health of drinking fake alcohol.

The two groups say the side effects from counterfeit alcohol can leave drinkers suffering black outs, blurred vision and even short-term sight loss.

Dave Hunter, head of operations at Crimestoppers, said: “Faze booze might seem like a good idea especially with many people making the most of festivities in the run up to Christmas. However, knock-off alcohol is no laughing matter. It’s incredibly risky to consumers as it is unregulated and unlicensed so potentially the consumer could ingest a range of dangerous chemicals.

“Newcastle has rightly earned a reputation as a fun-loving city, but partygoers, especially young people who enjoy having a good time, can fall foul and be left seriously ill if they drink counterfeit alcohol.

“If you suspect fake alcohol is being sold in a shop, bar, pub or venue, please let our charity know. You can speak to The Alcohol Fraud Reporting Line on 0800 2346388 or pass on your information via our anonymous online form You will always remain 100% anonymous. We won’t judge or ask any of your personal details. We will just listen to what you know, and then pass it onto the relevant agency.”

This year the charity is focusing on spirits, especially vodka, and it is urging people to speak up if they have relevant information.  It noted that the problem is significant, as shown by the HMRC seizing 50 million litres of illicit alcohol in the UK.

The two groups are also highlighting the signs to look out for to help spot fake vodka, such as spelling mistakes on the packaging, a bad taste, a smell of nail varnish and sediment instead of being a clear spirit.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the 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.”