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Lincolnshire police commissioner welcomes nitroux oxide ban as it comes into force while government plans anti-social behaviour crackdown

The misuse of nitrous oxide – or laughing gas – has been a ‘growing and worrying issue’ in Lincolnshire, says the county’s police and crime commissioner, who welcomes the ban coming into force today.

Possessing nitrous oxide – or NOS – will be illegal from Wednesday, November 8 with those caught repeatedly misusing the drug facing up to two years in prison.

Cans of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. Image: Stock photo.
Cans of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. Image: Stock photo.

PCC Marc Jones (Con), who is tasked with holding police to account in the county and acting as a voice for residents, says he hopes the new legislation will keep the canisters away from those wanting the drug for recreational use.

He explained: “The misuse of nitrous oxide has been a growing and worrying issue especially amongst young people across the country including here in Lincolnshire.

“I along with some fellow Police and Crime Commissioners raised our concerns regarding this trend with the Police Minister some months ago and I am very pleased that action has now been taken to keep this potentially harmful substance from reaching the wrong hands.”

The move was also welcomed by Coun Tracey Carter (Con), who is deputy leader and portfolio holder for communities and operational housing at South Holland District Council, said: “I welcome the recent news about the Government banning nitrous oxide, as a community we’ve experienced first-hand the impact ‘laughing gas’ has, in particular on our public spaces being littered with used canisters, but also the damaging long-term effects the misuse of the drug has on people’s mental health.”

“As a council it’s critical we support our partners at Lincolnshire Police in their efforts to crack down on this crime. As a local Councillor, one of my focuses is finding solutions to address the different forms of anti-social behaviour we experience in South Holland. Whilst legislation changes are helpful in providing us with the means to address these issues, it’s vital that we work with our partners to explore community engagement, education and mental health support to create a well-rounded approach.”

Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones
Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones

As the government attempts to deliver a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to antisocial behaviour it is to make the gas, known as NOS, a controlled Class C drug and here’s what the changes in the law will mean:

What is nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas commonly used as a painkiller in medicine and dentistry where it’s also valued for its anti-anxiety effects.

It is also used when producing whipped cream in cooking.

But it has grown in popularity as a recreational drug, particularly during the pandemic, and is now estimated to be one of the most-used drugs by 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK.

When it is inhaled by users it makes people feel relaxed, light-headed, sometimes dizzy and giggly – hence its ‘laughing gas’ nickname.

However heavy, regular abuse of the drug, says the government, can also carry significant health risks including anaemia and in more severe cases, nerve damage or paralysis.

It has also been identified as having potentially fatal consequences on the UK’s roads from incidents of drug driving.

Litter in parks and playgrounds often includes laughing gas canisters says the government. Image: Stock photo.
Litter in parks and playgrounds often includes laughing gas canisters says the government. Image: Stock photo.

Why is possession to become illegal?

Earlier this year, the Home Secretary urged police forces to get tough on flagrant drug taking in communities as part of efforts to crack down on anti-social behaviour.

Reports, claim the government, also often link nitrous oxide to antisocial behaviour with its use connected to intimidating gatherings on high streets or in children’s parks and playgrounds.

In the past three years there have been numerous reports of residents finding discarded canisters in parts of the county - while in June 2020 a warning was issued by Lincolnshire Police after a spate of incidents.

Announcing the proposed ban, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said earlier this year: "I, and almost everyone else, is just sick of having to deal with nitrous oxide canisters when they're walking through their communities. And it's not just about the littering, [but] it's about the damage that's being done by the people who are using it."

Rupert Matthews
Rupert Matthews

The reclassification has also been welcomed by Rupert Matthews, Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Police and Crime Commissioner, who has described it as a ‘positive move’ towards driving down anti-social behaviour in communities.

He added: “I have received dozens of complaints about the silver canisters left behind by users of nitrous oxide. While the effects of abusing nitrous oxide are no laughing matter. Not only can it cause serious health issues, but its use leads to anti-social behaviour and criminality. This both blights communities and puts additional demand on our police officers.

“This move is designed to deter young people from using the substance as a psychoactive substances and consequentially reduce anti-social behaviour.

“Having supported the calls for nitrous oxide to be reclassified as a matter of urgency, I’m pleased to see the swift introduction of this legislation.”

The clear gas, when inhaled can make people feel giddy and giggly. Image: Stock photo.
The clear gas, when inhaled can make people feel giddy and giggly. Image: Stock photo.

What will the law change mean?

The ban will make nitrous oxide a controlled Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Repeat serious users of nitrous oxide could face up to two years in prison – and dealers up to 14 years - as ministers pledge a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to antisocial behaviour.

Legislation will also mean possession of nitrous oxide, where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it – for example ‘to get high’ – will be an offence and consequences could include a fine, a community punishment, a caution that appears on a person’s criminal record or a prison sentence for repeat serious offenders.

The maximum sentence for production, supply importation or exportation of the drug for unlawful purposes is also doubling, from seven to 14 years’ imprisonment.

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said: “We are delivering on the promise we made to take a zero-tolerance approach towards antisocial behaviour and flagrant drug taking in our public spaces.

“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. Both users and dealers will face the full force of the law for their actions.”

What about legitimate uses?

There are still many necessary uses for nitrous oxide that won’t be affected by the ban – for example its lawful use in food catering or in maternity wards when used as pain relief in labour.

Licences will not be required to carry nitrous oxide, but individual users will need to demonstrate they are lawfully in possession of the drug and don’t intend to consume it for psychoactive effects.

Ministers say they no longer want to see NOS littering open spaces. Photo: Anthony Casson.
Ministers say they no longer want to see NOS littering open spaces. Photo: Anthony Casson.

Reporting the illegal use of nitrous oxide

Once new legislation has come into effect on November 8, ministers say they want to see members of the public reporting any illegal use to their local police force.

CEO of Neighbourhood Watch John Hayward-Cripps said: “As consumption of nitrous oxide has increased over the years, there has been a connected increase in reports of antisocial behaviour, including the littering of nitrous oxide canisters.

“For communities across the country, the banning of the substance under new legislation will be a positive move towards tackling antisocial behaviour, and making local communities a better and safer place to live.”

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