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Amazon sells large canisters of laughing gas no questions asked, Parliament told

Nick Lester, Chief Lords Reporter

Large canisters of laughing gas can be bought on Amazon “no questions asked”, Parliament has been told, as ministers were urged to crack down on their sale.

In making his call at Westminster, Labour peer Lord Young of Norwood Green held up one of the empty nitrous oxide cylinders, but reassured members he “didn't indulge”.

He argued they should only be sold to licensed traders.

A review commissioned by the Government to examine the harms of laughing gas stopped short of recommending a ban on the substance in a recent report.

Ministers earlier this year were looking at outlawing both the sale and possession of laughing gas as part of a bid to tackle anti-social behaviour.

The assessment by the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said the substance “should not be subjected to control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971”.

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

Examples of legitimate use cited in the report included as an anaesthetic in medical and dental contexts and as a gas for whipped cream.

Non-legitimate use of nitrous oxide is currently controlled under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which the council said “remains the appropriate legislation”.

This means the production, supply and importation of nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects is illegal, but not possession.

However, it did suggest steps to tackle non-legitimate supply of the drug, by restricting direct-to-consumer sales and closing down websites selling the substance for non-legitimate uses.

The Government has said it will consider the conclusions of the report.

Speaking in the Lords, Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom said: “I would expect police to use all available powers to crack down on illegal sellers swiftly.”

Holding up one of the cylinders in the upper chamber as he pressed the minister, Lord Young said: “This is the challenge that we face. These canisters now litter the countryside everywhere. It's empty. I didn't indulge.

“But it is a serious problem. They are meant for industrial use but they are also a serious health hazard.

“You can buy these on Amazon. No questions asked.”

He pressed for urgent action to ensure the canisters could only be sold to registered traders and for consideration to be given to a deposit scheme to ensure their return.

Prolonged use of nitrous oxide can cause vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia and nerve damage. Doctors previously warned using laughing gas could lead to spinal injuries.

Labour frontbencher and sitting magistrate Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede said: “Does the minister accept that nitrous oxide is a gateway drug and it may lead young people in particular moving onto other drugs which are even more harmful?”

Lord Sharpe said: “The evidence I have seen would certainly suggest that to be the case. I believe it is the third most common drug in England and Wales after cannabis and cocaine.”

He added: “There are legitimate uses for nitrous oxide. It's used in medicine, dentistry and – this may surprise members – as a propellant for whipped cream canisters.

“Those who supply nitrous oxide knowing or reckless as to whether it will be used for its psychoactive effect commit an offence under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, and that's regardless of the age of the buyer.

“That can include a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment and people are convicted under the Psychoactive Substances Act. There's no complacency.”

Amazon has been contacted for comment.


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