As well as the economic damage to companies, workers and governments which characterises counterfeiting generally, the production of fake alcohol causes serious social and health damage to people.
The health dangers of counterfeit alcohol come from the harmful substances and additives used to simulate the more expensive natural raw materials. Highly toxic substances are also created by the wrong and improper production processes used.
The dangerous substances contained in counterfeit alcohol:
It is the most basic industrial alcohol, also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol. At room temperature it appears as a colorless liquid with the characteristic odor.
Methanol is toxic and causes suppression of the central nervous system while its metabolites (formaldehyde and formic acid) are responsible for damage to the optic nerve and retina. The lethal dose for a human being varies from 0.3 to 1 g per kg of body weight.
If temperature is not controlled during the distillation process used to make alcoholic beverages, methanol can be produced in addition to the desired ethyl alcohol. Methanol can cause liver damage, blindness, coma and even death.
It’s a powerful bactericide and in common use. Aqueous solutions of formaldehyde are widely used as disinfectants for domestic use and it is used as bactericide in the production of fabrics for industry. Formaldehyde solutions are also used to store samples of biological material. It is also widely used for embalming techniques.
Formaldehyde, together with the urea, is used as glue for the production of
As a food additive, it is used as a preservative and identified by the code E240. Formaldehyde-based resins are widely used in the production of coatings and insulating foam, and over time can release formaldehyde molecules into the environment – making formaldehyde one of the most common indoor pollutants.
At air concentrations above 0.1ppm, it can irritate humans via inhalation and also cause damage to eyesight. Ingestion or exposure to large quantities are potentially lethal. Since 2004, it has been included on the Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)’s list of carcinogens for humans.
It’s the simplest of chemical compounds. Widely used as an antifreeze (either in its pure form, or in solution), ethylene glycol has, over the years, become an important component in the manufacture of polyester fibres and resins – including polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) used in the production of transparent bottles for food use.
Ethylene glycol is toxic if swallowed and cases large quantities of it being used to adulterate products occur frequently in the news (wine, toothpaste…). The first symptoms of being poisoned are similar to those of ethanol consumption (i.e. drinking alcohol): confusion, difficulties in speaking, poor movement co-ordination etc. But over the time, the body metabolises ethylene glycol into an oxalic acid that can cause kidney failure.
The damages caused by counterfeiting – and in particular alcohol counterfeiting – to individual consumers and legitimate businesses inevitably create serious consequences and affects society in general.
Most counterfeit products are always sold without payment of legitimate taxes. A loss of income for countries and states, which in turn leads to a reduction of services, affecting the legitimate taxpayer and increasing of government debt.
It is estimated that over the last ten years, counterfeiting has led to the loss of more than 270,000 jobs around the world. The ‘jobs’ in the counterfeiting industry involve massive exploitation: long working hours, no employee or work rights, low pay and, very importantly, no basic safety guarantees in the workplace.
Counterfeiting is a criminal activity with a high social impact and organised structures of great complexity and efficiency. National and international public bodies are forced to devote significant resources to developing ways to fight and prevent the phenomenon – resources that could be used for more positive work. Spirits counterfeiting in particular involves the extreme danger of the products to consumers’ health, and the increasing consequences of alcohol dependency – all meaning a substantial increase in healthcare costs for the community.
The producers of legal goods are obviously the first victims of counterfeiting. Companies suffer direct and serious damage in terms of a reduction in sales and image, and damage to the prestige of the brand and its credibility.