Nitrous Oxide: Laughing gas to be banned in crackdown on anti-social behaviour
The sale of laughing gas to the public will be banned as part of a wider crackdown on antisocial behaviour, a Cabinet minister has confirmed.
Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove said the “scourge” of nitrous oxide was turning public spaces into “drug-taking arenas” and was helping fuel anti-social behaviour that ministers are determined to stamp out.
The ban comes despite an assessment by the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) concluding it would be disproportionate to bring in an outright ban given the level of harm associated with nitrous oxide.
But Mr Gove said he agreed with a view pushed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman that tougher action was required.
Mr Sunak is due to outline a series of hard-hitting measures on Monday designed to clampdown on low-level crime, with plans for offenders slapped with community orders to be cleaning-up their own graffiti or vandalism within 48 hours.
Downing Street said the plans would include perpetrators wearing jumpsuits or hi-viz jackets while they carry out punishments, which could include washing police cars or carrying out unpaid work in shops.
Announcing the laughing gas ban, Mr Gove told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I think any of us who have had the opportunity to walk through our parks in our major cities will have seen these little canisters, these silver canisters which are examples of people not only despoiling public spaces but also people taking a drug which can have a psychological and neurological affect and one that contributes to anti-social behaviour overall.”
He said ministers had not yet decided at what drug classification level laughing gas would be set at, only that the Government wanted sales “restricted for its appropriate purpose”.
Nitrous oxide is included as an anaesthetic in medical and dental contexts and as a gas for whipped cream.
Mr Gove added: “We can’t have a situation, we mustn’t have a situation where our parks, our public spaces become drug-taking arenas.
“And that is why we need to crackdown on new manifestations of drug taking and these laughing gas canisters are an increasing scourge.”
The senior Conservative minister denied that his defence of the Government’s tougher laughing gas rules would be seen as hypocritical given he has previously admitted to taking the Class A drug cocaine.
The former journalist said he had learned through his own experience that it was a “mistake” to “regard drug taking as somehow acceptable”.
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 canisters 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.
The Prime Minister addressed the issue in his new year speech, highlighting the blight of discarded “nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds”.