Home > The distribution and consumption of counterfeit alcohol: getting to grips with fake booze.

Spencer, Jonathan and Lord, Nicholas and Flores Elizondo, Cecilia (2020) The distribution and consumption of counterfeit alcohol: getting to grips with fake booze. London: Alcohol Change UK.

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Several reported incidents of counterfeit alcohol operations were followed by dire warnings in the press to potential consumers of blindness, and even death, should counterfeit alcohol be purchased and consumed. There were reports of illegal stills that had exploded and where there had been fatalities of those involved in illicit production. However, the reporting appeared to be episodic, reactive to events, and with little follow-up on the outcome of investigations.

Contact with a European regulator provided the impetus to investigate counterfeit alcohol and apply a criminological perspective. Case files were made available for analysis and with application of routine activity theory, script analysis and a social network analysis, it was possible to gain a greater understanding of the organisation and distribution of counterfeit alcohol. The lack of follow-up in relation to reported cases and a general lack of interest in the issue of counterfeit alcohol by regulators could be explained by counterfeit alcohol not being a significant problem in terms of potential damage to health or revenue lost. Another possible explanation was that counterfeit alcohol was a problem that presented several challenges that were time consuming, costly and with little benefit once prosecuted and so it was not prioritised or defined as a significant problem.

There was a lack of criminological curiosity in the topic. Criminology has an interest in drug use and markets, counterfeiting of goods from aircraft parts to clothes and fashion accessories, but not alcohol. There is an increasing interest in food fraud. In utilising previous research strategies from food fraud, it was appropriate to consider the distribution and consumption of counterfeit alcohol through a criminological lens.

The aims of the project were:
• Provide a greater understanding of the social factors that influence counterfeit alcohol distribution and consumption
• Develop a detailed understanding of the distribution mechanisms of counterfeit alcohol

Key findings:
• Distribution of counterfeit alcohol is opaque.
• Cheaper brand and ‘own brand’ alcohol appears more vulnerable to counterfeiting than the more expensive brands
• The financial controls on local authority regulators are an impediment to structured investigations and prosecutions
• It is not possible currently to size the market in counterfeit alcohol owing to a lack of knowledge of its production and importation.

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Report
Drug Type
Intervention Type
Harm reduction, Crime prevention
August 2020
39 p.
Alcohol Change UK
Place of Publication
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