A laughing gas ban will not stop people using it and risks driving it into criminal hands, an expert has said.
As part of a wider crack down on anti-social behaviour, ministers are looking to clamp down on the sale of nitrous oxide, 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.
The Drug Science Scientific Committee is among the groups criticising the “same old tired drug policy” by the Government.
Meanwhile, the National Police Chiefs’ Council said it backed the move, as it would give them “the ability to seize and dispose of nitrous oxide”.
“A blanket ban on nitrous oxide is completely disproportionate to the harms that are caused by nitrous oxide and would likely deliver more harm than good.
“The Government should be concentrating on much more serious elements of drug policy that are causing harm, like alcohol for instance.
“What’s the point in the ACMD when the very best scientists and experts have looked at the evidence and advised what to do and they completely ignore it?
“It won’t stop young people using it, banning any substance just drives it into criminal hands and the inherent risks associated with the black market come into play, I don’t think it will stop people doing it.”
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 were determined to stamp out.
Current legislation bans the knowing or reckless supply of nitrous oxide for inhalation, with dealers facing up to seven years in jail.
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 that using laughing gas could lead to spinal injuries.
Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: “This Government appears determined to double down on the political theatre of ‘get tough’ drug policing as part of its anti-social behaviour crack down.
“To reduce risks, this Government should sensibly direct resources towards risk education for vulnerable groups, and restrict sales of the bigger nitrous canisters that have no legitimate use.
“To reduce litter, it could adopt a recycling deposit scheme for nitrous canisters.”
Jane Slater, campaign manager at Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control said: “Criminalising possession of nitrous oxide will only give more young people criminal records, make using it more dangerous, fuel organised crime activity, and cause further harm to our families and communities.
“If this Government is serious about addressing the problems with nitrous oxide then it would listen to the experts who are recommending a health-led approach supported by better use of existing controls.”
“Officers would welcome the ability to seize and dispose of nitrous oxide, as well as provide warnings and carry out arrests, depending on the situation.”
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, said: “The problems caused by nitrous oxide in our local communities are no laughing matter.
“Councils are concerned that not only does it lead to a plague of anti-social behaviour but there is growing evidence that it can cause serious health problems for those who use it.
“Working with the police, councils have taken steps in their local areas to try and tackle this issue with the limited powers they currently have.
“A ban on nitrous oxide is a good step forward. We now await more details from Government about how this would be enforced and what support there will be for council trading standards teams.”
Ellen Daniels, of the British Compressed Gases Association, said: “We welcome the Government’s new measures around the misuse of nitrous oxide and look forward to seeing more details on how the ban will be implemented.
“As a trade body, and experts in the sector, we have been campaigning for almost three years for a change in the law that would drive down nitrous oxide abuse and protect the public from the dangers of its misuse.
“Misusing nitrous oxide can cause permanent damage to the central nervous system including loss of peripheral feeling, loss of motor control and paralysis. In some cases, it can be fatal.”