Retailers need to 'immediately accept responsibility' for selling laughing gas, police boss says

Retailers need to “immediately accept responsibility” for selling laughing gas, the West Midlands police boss has said after revelations the drug is causing “permanent neurological disability” in some users.

Discarded nitrous oxide canisters
Discarded nitrous oxide canisters

Police and crime commissioner Simon Foster also said he is “giving consideration” to what further action he should take and urged West Midlands police to “prevent and tackle” the issue.

A leading Birmingham medic asked Chief Constable David Thompson what is being done to “take action” against illegal suppliers at a Q&A chaired by Mr Foster on Tuesday morning.

Dr David Nicholls highlighted an increase in admissions to hospital as a result of nitrous oxide abuse in the last two years and insists: “We should be after the sellers, not the users”.

He said: “We understand that supply of Nitrous Oxide for recreational use is a criminal offence under the Psychoactive Substances Act (2016), and this has, for example, led to at least one recent conviction in Cardiff.

“We would like to ask West Midlands Police how many arrests and convictions for Nitrous Oxide supply have taken place in our region since this Act, and what actions the police, in conjunction with the National Crime Agency, can make to take action against the illegal suppliers, as their actions are leading to, in some cases, permanent neurological disability.”

Chief Constable Thompson responded: “The issue of online retailing is something we are going to see more and more of as illicit substances are made available on the internet for purchase.

“This as a phenomenon has been picked up in part in other things we have done.

“Given the neurologists’ views and the threat you see from it, what I would intend to do is take it more into the force and see what specific focus we can have.

“Information in where you say sales are taking place is something we would be really interested to see.

“Thank you for drawing this to our attention.”

Chief Executive Jonathan Jardine added: “One of the national associations of suppliers of the gas has also called for an end to retail sales, which I think is a welcome development.”

Dr Nicholls responded: “Patients are very reluctant to speak about this publicly – we should be going after the sellers not the users.”

Simon Foster said: “I am giving consideration as to what further action I can take to prevent and tackle the misuse of Nitrous Oxide including, calling on the government to strengthen the regulatory regime and as the Senior Responsible Owner in the recently formed West Midlands Combatting Drugs and Alcohol Partnership, ensuring that the misuse of Nitrous Oxide is addressed in the Strategic Needs Assessment, that is currently being prepared.

“In addition to that, I would urge West Midlands Police to give further consideration as to what can be done to prevent and tackle this issue and in particular to work with partner agencies, such as Public Health and Trading Standards, to make sure it is less readily available to young people.

“I am also calling on retailers immediately, to accept their responsibility to comply with the law relating to the sale of Nitrous Oxide and exercise all due care and attention, in relation to who they are selling it to and the circumstances in which it is being sold and purchased.”

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