Lambeth Council has today become the first in the UK to ban the use of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, as a recreational drug.
Although medically safe and not illegal, the chemical can cause a drop in blood pressure, fainting and heart attacks when used on a regular basis. Last month a death of a teenager in Bexley was linked to the drug. Between 2006 and 2012 the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said the use of laughing gas could have caused 17 fatalities in the UK with the US recording around 15 deaths a year.
It is illegal to sell to under-18s if there is a risk they will inhale it, but it remains available for adults to buy. However, from today, those using it publicly in Lambeth can now be issued with an on-the-spot fine of up to £1,000.
Councillor Jane Edbrooke, the cabinet member responsible for community safety in the borough, said using the gas was "not harmless fun" and with the gas has quickly become the UK's fourth popular recreational drug with the Home Office statistics showing some 470,000 people taken nitrous oxide in 2013-14. She also said the new measures would tackle the disposal of the cannisters in the brough's streets:
"The government's new laws will tackle production, importation and supply of legal highs, but there's a big gap around actually tackling people who use these drugs and leave canisters lying all over our streets,"
"The mess left in some of our neighbourhoods after a Friday and Saturday night just isn’t acceptable, with families having to witness this behaviour on a regular basis, as well as coming across these canisters in their playgrounds, parks and streets."