Dutch to ban laughing gas over fears for health and road safety

Nitrous oxide linked to more than 60 fatal crashes in the country in less than three years

The Dutch government will ban laughing gas from next year, amid growing concern about the risks it poses to health and road safety.

From 1 January 2023, the sale, import and possession of laughing gas, formally known as nitrous oxide, will be banned in the Netherlands, with a few exceptions for medical use and the food industry.

The Dutch state secretary for health, welfare and sport, Maarten Van Ooijen, said the recreational use of laughing gas posed “enormous health risks” and was linked to “terrible” road accidents involving non-users of the drug, as he announced the ban on Monday.

Nitrous oxide, which is inhaled from a balloon that has been filled by a cylinder, has become increasingly common as a recreational drug. One in 50 Dutch adults used laughing gas in 2020, according to the Trimbos Institute, which studies drugs and mental health. The institute also highlighted the growing use of the substance by 12- to 14-year-olds, who do not see it as a “real drug” and are unaware of the risks.

For some experts, January may be too late. “The nitrous oxide ban should come into effect as soon as possible, rather yesterday than today,” Robert Riezebos, a cardiologist at the Greater Amsterdam city hospital, told the newspaper Het Parool in May.

He reported seeing 20 young patients in his department in recent years suffering major health damage, such as heart attacks and pulmonary embolisms, as well as a young woman who had to have her leg amputated.

Police have also welcomed the ban, after a surge in traffic accidents linked to the drug. In a nearly-three-year period until October 2021 there were almost 1,800 road accidents involving nitrous oxide, including 63 fatal collisions, according to a police survey reported by the Dutch public broadcaster NOS. Offences committed by people using the gas included dangerous driving and driving without a licence.

The ban had already been approved by the Dutch house of representatives and the senate, but the council of state, an official advisory body, wanted clearer legal distinctions between medical and recreational use. Laughing gas is used as an anaesthetic, as well as in the production of whipped cream.

But one prominent industry group opposed the ban. The Industry Association for Responsible Laughing Gas Suppliers acknowledged there was a problem, but argued that stricter rules would “work better than a ban”.


Contributor

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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