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Nitrous Oxide: Laughing gas to become illegal next month – as dealers face 14 years in jail | UK News


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Nitrous Oxide will be illegal from next month as part of a government crackdown on anti-social behaviour, it has been announced.

The substance, also known as laughing gas or NOS, will become a controlled Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) from 8 November.

Serial users could face up to two years in prison while the maximum sentence for dealers has doubled to 14 years behind bars, the Home Office has confirmed.

People caught with nitrous oxide with the intention of wrongfully inhaling it to get high could also be handed an unlimited fine, a “visible” community punishment, or a caution, which would appear on their criminal record.

The new law comes after ministers vowed to take action on “flagrant” drug taking in communities, with nitrous oxide linked to anti-social behaviour including “intimidating gatherings”, while empty cannisters are often discarded in public spaces.

Heavy users expose themselves to significant health risks including anaemia, nerve damage and paralysis, while nitrous oxide also has the potential to cause fatal drug-diving accidents.

The drug is the second most commonly used drug among 16 to 24-year-olds in England after cannabis, amid growing concerns about health problems caused by its usage.

A Sky News undercover investigation revealed how obtaining nitrous oxide from corner shops was “as easy as buying a loaf of bread” – as one user, aged 20, told how a laughing gas addiction “messed up his life”, leaving him with a spinal abnormality that could be permanent.

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Crime and Policing Minister on anti-social behaviour

Crime and Policing Minister, Chris Philp, said both users and dealers would “face the full force of the law”.

“We are delivering on the promise we made to take a zero-tolerance approach towards anti-social behaviour and flagrant drug taking in our public spaces,” he said.

“Abuse of nitrous oxide is also dangerous to people’s health and today, we are sending a clear signal to young people that there are consequences for misusing drugs.”

The drug can continue to be legitimately used for purposes including in professional kitchens, dentists and in maternity wards as pain relief.

However, ministers have called on producers and suppliers to “be responsible” and not “reckless” about the reasons the drug is being purchased.

It will be an offence to “turn a blind eye”, the Home Office warned.

Laughing gas canisters collected after the Notting Hill Carnival
Laughing gas canisters collected after the Notting Hill Carnival in September this year

The ban has been backed by the CEO of Neighbourhood Watch, John Hayward-Cripps, who said increased consumption of the drug has been connected to reports of a rise in anti-social behaviour, such as littering.

The new legislation will be a “positive move” that will make “local communities a better and safer place to live”, he added.

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, a trade organisation that gives a voice to late night industries, also welcomed the announcement.

Nitrous oxide has placed a “substantial” burden on businesses and posed risks to the well-being of staff and customers, Mr Kill said.

It has also “fostered an environment conducive to petty crime, anti-social behaviour and the activities of organised crime syndicates”, he added.

Read more:

Laughing gas sparks ‘epidemic’ of young people being hospitalised
Misuse of party drug ‘is no joke’, neurologist warns
Tonnes of cannisters collected after Notting Hill Carnival

However some believe a clamp down is unwise and unnecessary.

Harry Summall, a professor in substance use at Liverpool John Moores University, told Sky News earlier this year that criminalising nitrous oxide could encourage people to buy the drug from the dark web or try other substances.

“There are more than 600,000 nitrous oxide users in the UK, and most people, if they are using it, are going to be using it a few times a year, at really low levels of risk.”

The independent Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) stopped short of recommending a ban on laughing gas after being commissioned to conduct a review in 2021.

After examining the dangers of the substance, the ACMD said it “should not be subjected to control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971”.

It concluded that the sanctions of offences under the act would be disproportionate with the level of harm associated with nitrous oxide – and that control could create “significant burdens” for legitimate uses of the substance.

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