Home Office responds to call for retail sales ban on nitrous oxide

The UK Home Office has responded to a call from trade body the British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA) to impose a sales ban on nitrous oxide (N2O), saying that it will consider council advice before deciding how to proceed.

A highly versatile substance, the colourless gas is used across a range of applications including electronics manufacturing, anaesthetics, as a food and beverage propellant and as a fuel oxidiser for rockets and racing cars.

Often referred to as laughing gas, N2O is also increasingly being used by young Brits looking to take advantage of the gas’s euphoria-inducing properties. Although clinically safe when used as an anaesthetic, when used recreationally it carries the risk of psychosis, depression, heart attack and even sudden death.

In a letter addressed to new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman MP in September, Ellen Daniels, Chief Executive of the BCGA urged her to consider imposing a ban on ‘direct-to-consumer’ sales of N2O, while protecting its use as a legitimate medical and industrial tool.

When N2O is used recreationally, users open the canister containing the gas, transfer it into a container (usually a balloon), then inhale.

Having last year contacted former Home Secretary Priti Patel MP, who requested a review of N2O and its legal status by the independent Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), the BCGA has revealed that a response has been received.

Attributed to Chris Philip MP, Minister for Crime Policing and Fire at the Home Office, the response stated that the Government will consider ACMD’s advice carefully before deciding how to proceed.

“We are hopeful that ACMD will recognise that while N2O has many legitimate uses, allowing the gas to be sold directly to members of the public is putting consumers at risk,” said Daniels.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), N2O has become one of the most commonly abused substances in England and Wales, particularly among young people. Between 2001 and 2020, the organisation reported 716 deaths related to volatile substances, with an average of 36 deaths each year – nearly 80% of them males.

N2O was the third most mentioned substance on the death certificate after butane and propane, with 56 deaths registered between 2001 and 2020, and 45 of those having been registered since 2010.

With the BCGA having campaigned for retail sales of the gas to be banned since March 2020, Daniels added, “The aim is simply to protect legitimate uses of the gas in industry, in areas including professional catering and healthcare, and reduce the sales of N2O to members of the public, which can lead to its misuse.”

“We look forward to hearing the results of the ACMD review of N2O and hope that it reflects some of the concerns that we have put before the Government over the last two years.”

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