THE use of laughing gas by young British Asians is a growing problem with tougher punishments needed for possession, according to doctors and community experts.
Nitrous oxide, sold in small metal canisters or balloons, can lead to a host of health problems.
After cannabis, nitrous oxide is the most commonly misused substance among 16 to 24-yearolds in England.
West Yorkshire Police said the colourless gas was an “emerging issue” after a spate of crashes involving drivers who had used the substance. The force ran a campaign on the issue until August 27 with increased enforcement on motorists who drove while over the limit or under the influence of drugs.
Dr Chandra Kanneganti, a GP in Staffordshire, told Eastern Eye: “It is called laughing gas, but it is not a laughing matter, it is serious.
“It can cause dizziness, make you unconscious; there have been reported deaths, fertility problems, limb spasms, damage to lungs as well.”
“The other day I saw a patient, a 20-year-old man, who had numbness in his feet after having one canister.
“Not many teenagers are aware of the risks, we need to get the message across.”
Dr Kanneganti, who is also the chair of the British International Doctors Association, added: “We need to think about giving information to schools and colleges so kids can understand it can be dangerous. There needs to be a crackdown on this anti-social behaviour with some sort of [law].
“We also need to publicise the stories of people who have had lung problems and numbness in their feet.
“But it is a taboo in the Asian community, families do not want these stories to come out.”
Earlier this year, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced nitrous oxide would be a Class C drug and is illegal to possess, supply, import, export or produce unless an exemption applies such as for use in healthcare or the person holds an appropriate licence.
Mohammed Shafiq, a community leader in Greater Manchester and chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he has seen a massive increase in the use of the drug.
He told Eastern Eye: “It is something that is prevalent when you walk past cars of youngsters
blowing into balloons.
“It is seriously damaging their health and has lifelong consequences. Why is it not higher
than Class C and be banned?
“[Some] newsagents and off licences are selling it without checks. There is a lack of awareness about the severity.”
Islamic charity Dawat-e-Islami UK last year launched a campaign to tackle misuse of nitrous oxide. It held two events in the West Midlands where students of its centres were told about the dangers by police, medical experts and youth workers.
There have been a number of recent cases of motorists involved in collisions after taking laughing gas.
In June, Nasrin Saleh, 26, was jailed for four and a half years for causing death by dangerous driving. She was driving a car at 103mph after inhaling large quantities of nitrous oxide when she crashed into a wall near Liverpool.
Last September, Zamir Shah, 27, was jailed for three-and-ahalf years after leaving his female passenger lying seriously injured at the scene of a crash in Bradford. He had been inhaling socalled “laughing gas” moments before he tried to overtake a car.
Dr Qadir Bakhsh MBE, who has written two books on drug use among Asian youths, said: “It is pretty commonly used by youth in general.
“Where I live in Essex, I see these little canisters scattered on the roads.
“However, there is some evidence that it is an issue among Asian youth.”
Mufti Helal Uddin, from Oldham Mosques Council (OMC), said it is planning drug awareness sessions for imams and mosque teachers including about the effects of drugs.
Uddin, who previously worked in drugs and alcohol support services for five years, said: “At the moment the most widely used drug is laughing gas.
“Most people don’t even think of it as a drug.
“So it was important to raise awareness in schools and after school mosque classes as dealers are targeting young children.”
He added: “There aren’t any organisations which are culturally sensitive, so this stops the community from using these services.”