Journal of Public Health

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 37–42 | Cite as

The methanol content of illicit alcoholic beverages seized in a low socio-economic area of Tel-Aviv: public health impact and policy implications

  • Barak ShapiraEmail author
  • Efi Schaefer
  • Alina Poperno
  • Zipora Hess
  • Paola Rosca
  • Ronny Berkovitz
Original Article



To identify the presence and concentration of methanol in illegal alcoholic beverages sold commercially in a low socio-economic area of Tel-Aviv. Additionally, we aim to assess if findings represent an existing risk for public health in the area.

Subjects and methods

Ministry of Health Division of Enforcement and Inspection personnel carried out a series of inspections in grocery stores and kiosks in two adjacent neighborhoods of low socio-economic status: Neve Sha’anan and Hatikvah. Twenty-six samples of illicit drinks were identified, seized, and then analyzed for the presence and concentration of methanol.


Alcohol products seized were spirits labeled as vodka, brandy, arak and “scotch flavor” drinks, which contained an average of 36.608% volume of ethanol. Methanol was detected in 15 samples. Methanol concentration levels varied considerably, from 12 to 4534 g/hl. Data of hospital emergency department visits revealed that only nine cases of methanol toxicity were reported for years 2014–2017, and none of them by area hospitals.


We identified the sale of alcoholic beverages with high methanol content in the disadvantaged areas of Tel-Aviv, though hospitalization data does not reveal a high prevalence of cases involving methanol toxicity. This may be related to misreporting or underreporting by area emergency rooms. Policy implications include the need to inform local shopkeepers and shop-owners on labeling regulations, and make information and health warnings accessible to the foreign-born population residing in the area. A larger sample is needed to determine the extent of the sale of methanol-containing illicit alcoholic beverages.


Methanol Unrecorded alcohol Counterfeit alcohol Methanol toxicity Alcohol policy Surrogate alcohol 



We wish to thank the analytical lab team in the Institute for Standardization and Control of Pharmaceuticals for their material support and professional guidance.


No separate funding was used specifically for this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Not applicable.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Enforcement and InspectionIsrael Ministry of HealthJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.Institute for Standardization and Control of PharmaceuticalsIsrael Ministry of HealthJerusalemIsrael
  3. 3.Department for the treatment of substance abuseIsrael Ministry of HealthJerusalemIsrael

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