Nitrous oxide, often known as laughing gas, is to be banned before the end of the year and will be considered a Class C drug, the government has announced.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “The British people are fed up with yobs abusing drugs in public spaces and leaving behind a disgraceful mess for others to clean up.
“Earlier this year the prime minister and I promised a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour and that is what we are delivering. If you are caught using ‘laughing gas’ as a drug, you could be hit with a hefty fine or face jail time,” she said.
Nitrous oxide is a gas that is often sold in small silver canisters, which are squirted into balloons and then inhaled.
In January, Dr. David Nicholl, the clinical lead for neurology at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, urged the government to get on with banning nitrous oxide.
He told The Epoch Times: “I don’t know what they’re waiting for. This problem is getting worse.”
Neurologist: ‘We Have Seen People Die’
Dr. Nicholl explained the medical risk: “It can lead to hypoxia. We have seen people die as a result. Another patient went blind. More commonly patients present with neuropathy—a tingling in the arms or legs—or even difficulty walking.”
In March the government announced plans to criminalise nitrous oxide and restrict its sale. It is used as an anaesthetic in medical and dental contexts and as a gas for whipped cream, but in recent years there has been a surge of demand by young people who use it recreationally.
Three young people died in March when their car crashed on the outskirts of Cardiff in the early hours of the morning.
It has since emerged the driver, Rafel Jeanne, 24, and his four passengers had been taking nitrous oxide shortly before the crash. Passengers Darcy Ross, 21, and Eve Smith, 21, died while Sophie Russon, 20, and Shane Loughlin, 32, were injured but survived.
In a press release emailed to The Epoch Times, the Home Office said, “Possession of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’, will be illegal by the end of the year, with users facing up to two years in prison, under a zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour.”
It added: “Secondary legislation has been brought forward today which will control nitrous oxide as a Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The new measures are expected to come into force by the end of the year.”
Nitrous oxide is the third most popular drug among the 16–24 age group in England and young people who consume it in public often leave dozens of empty canisters strewn across public spaces.
Regular use of nitrous oxide can also lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12, a form of anaemia, and in more severe cases, nerve damage or paralysis.
The Home Office says those found in unlawful possession of nitrous oxide could face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine.
Suppliers and producers who sell it for criminal purposes face up to 14 years in jail.
‘Dangerous to People’s Health’
Crime and policing minister Chris Philp said in a press release: “We cannot allow young people to think there are no consequences to misusing drugs. There is no question that abusing laughing gas is dangerous to people’s health and it is paramount we take decisive action before the situation gets worse.”
He said dealers who make large profits by selling nitrous oxide to young people will have “no place to hide.”
The CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, Michael Kill, said, “We welcome the announcement by the government today that nitrous oxide is set to be banned under new government legislation by the end of the year, but recognise that this must work hand in hand with a much broader education and harm reduction strategy on drugs across the country.”
“The government’s intervention comes at a pivotal juncture, given that businesses in major cities across the United Kingdom have witnessed a significant escalation in the challenges associated with nitrous oxide over the past 6–12 months,” Mr. Kill added.