The UK government has made possession of laughing gas a criminal offense as part of new measures to crack down on anti-social behavior.
The government also said it would impose tighter controls on retailers to prevent the supply of the substance, also known as nitrous oxide, for abuse.
A government spokesperson told the BBC on Sunday: Therefore, we have banned nitrous oxide.
“For the first time, we are criminalizing the possession of nitrous oxide. We will strengthen retailer controls to prevent misuse supplies. I give you greater authority.”
Nitrous oxide is a gas that is often sold in small silver canisters that you spray into a balloon and inhale.
Long-term use can cause vitamin B12 deficiency, anemia, and nerve damage. Doctors have previously warned that using laughing gas could lead to spinal cord injury.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 36 deaths linked to nitrous oxide in the UK between 2001 and 2016.
But Dr. David Nicholl, one of Britain’s leading neurologists, told The Epoch Times in January that the problem has gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of young people misusing laughing gas has increased “significantly” since the pandemic, said Nicolle, the clinical director of neurology at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, who is now in the week. He added that he was treating several patients.
Earlier, Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove said his Cabinet was determined to eradicate nitrous oxide abuse.
“I think anyone who has had the chance to walk through a major city park has seen these little canisters, these silver canisters. It contributes to anti-social behavior,” Gove said on Sky News’ “Sophy Ridge On Sunday” show.
He said ministers have yet to decide at which drug classification level to set laughing gas, as the government only wants sales “restricted for appropriate purposes”.
Nitrous oxide is included as a medical and dental anesthetic and as a gas in whipped cream.
Gove adds: That’s why we need to crack down on new signs of drug ingestion, and these laughing gas canisters are becoming an increasing scourge. ”
The main opposition Labor Party has expressed support for a plan to ban the sale of laughing gas.
Labour’s shadow culture officer, Lucy Powell, told Sky News:
Current law prohibits knowingly or recklessly supplying nitrous oxide for inhalation, and dealers face up to seven years in prison. But there are calls for a ban on all direct-to-consumer sales.
In January, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak highlighted the issue in a speech in which he criticized antisocial behavior and “nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds.”
But earlier this month, an assessment by an independent advisory panel on drug misuse concluded that it would be “disproportionate” to result in a complete ban.
The organization’s chief executive, David Badcock, said Sunday that he was “extremely disappointed” to hear that the government had chosen to “totally ignore” its advice.
“A blanket ban on nitrous oxide would be completely disproportionate to the harm caused by nitrous oxide and is likely to do more harm than good,” he told PA news agency.
“That won’t stop young people from using it. Banning the substance will only put it in the hands of criminals, creating the inherent risks associated with the black market.”
However, Gove told Sky News: And we collectively believe that it is absolutely imperative that we address this scourge in the same way. ”
He also said the ministers hoped to bring in “expansion of drug testing for those responsible for criminal and anti-social activities,” adding, “We need to address that.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council also said it would support the move because it would provide “the ability to seize and dispose of nitrous oxide”.
Chief Sergeant Richard Lewis, leader of the drug council, said, “The police would support making the possession of nitrous oxide a criminal offense without justification.
“Police officers welcome the ability to seize and dispose of nitrous oxide, issue warnings, and carry out arrests as circumstances permit.”
Chris Summers and PA Media contributed to this report.