Ministers ‘actively considering’ laughing gas ban
The sale and use of laughing gas could be banned under tougher plans being considered by ministers.
The Home Office said nitrous oxide is one of the most commonly used drugs among 16 to 24-year-olds in England and ministers are “actively considering” a wider ban.
The sale of nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects is already illegal but it is not a crime to possess the gas, and it is widely used in catering and medical settings.
It is used medically as an anaesthetic – given, for instance, to women in labour – and is also used to create whipped cream in kitchens, so any ban would need to be carefully drafted.
The Government asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to consider whether to make possession of laughing gas a crime in 2021 and officials have urged the panel to speed up the delivery of its report on the issue.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Anti-social behaviour causes misery in communities and we are determined to crack down on this scourge to protect our streets.
“Nitrous oxide is one of the most commonly-used drugs among 16 to 24-year-olds in England and can have damaging side-effects.
“We have been clear we want to see common-sense policing to keep our communities safe.
“That is why we are actively considering a ban on the sale and use of this harmful drug and will ask the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to hasten their delivery of the report we commissioned, which we will carefully consider in reaching any decision.”
Current legislation bans the knowing or reckless supply of nitrous oxide for inhalation, with dealers facing up to seven years in jail.
But there have been calls for a ban on all direct consumer sales.
The drug is typically released into balloons from small silver cannisters and then inhaled. Prolonged use can cause vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia and nerve damage. Doctors previously warned using laughing gas could lead to spinal injuries.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 36 deaths in Great Britain associated with nitrous oxide between 2001 and 2016.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressed the issue in his New Year speech earlier this month, hitting out at anti-social behaviour and highlighting the blight of discarded “nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds”.
And in a speech on Wednesday, Communities Secretary Michael Gove promised the Government “will tackle public drug-taking, including the use of nitrous oxide”.