Broadstairs councillor calls for action over harmful ‘laughing gas’ craze

Ruth Bailey cleared some 200 canisters in just one beach clean

An increase in young people using nitrous oxide – known as laughing gas – and dumping empty canisters on beaches and in parks across the isle has prompted a Broadstairs councillor to call for a targeted public awareness campaign and stricter penalties against those supplying the canisters to people who use them for highs.

Ruth Bailey has written to MP Craig Mackinlay after clearing some 200 canisters from Viking Bay during a beach clean this month. She says she has two main concerns – the harm caused to young people using the laughing gas balloons and the impact on the environment from the canisters left behind.

Groups of young people at Viking Bay and Margate Steps have been spotted using the laughing gas in recent weeks and there have been complaints of the canisters being dumped in areas across the isle including Westbrook’s Sunken Gardens.

Independent Cllr Bailey said: “It has been a problem for a while, not just here in Thanet but all over. I was doing a beach clean a couple of weeks ago and there were groups of young people sitting around, they had drink but were mostly using nitrous oxide balloons.

“They left all their mess and we picked up around 200 canisters, with some of them buried in the sand. I am worried about the harm this does to the young people and the environmental impact with canisters and balloons washing into the sea or being picked up by wildlife.

“Professionals are calling for stricter measures as this is a craze that appears to be growing exponentially while the conviction rates are actually decreasing year on year.”


Legislation introduced in 2016 made it illegal to sell the gas, also known as ‘hippy crack’, for psychoactive purposes. But Nitrous Oxide has legal medical uses and is also sold in catering shops to produce whipped cream – making its circulation harder to control.

In December 2018, a former Chief Crown Prosecutor said the new law had failed to stop the supply and described the product as ‘death in a box’.

Silver canisters of the gas are dispensed into balloons for inhalation. It can cause euphoria and of makes people become giggly and can hallucinations.

Risks include breathing problems when a large amounts of gas is inhaled, it can also cause burns due to coldness if inhaled directly from a canister or anaemia and nerve problems due to vitamin B12 deficiency associated with heavy use.

Side effects can include headaches, dizziness and bouts of paranoia. If too much is taken a person can risk falling unconscious and/or suffocating from the lack of oxygen. People have died this way.

According to government statistics, the inhalation of nitrous oxide resulted in the deaths of 25 people between 2010 and 2016.

It is the second most commonly used drug among 16- to 24-year-olds in England after cannabis.

It is an offence to supply nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effect, for which there is a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment.

There were 152 convictions for offences under this legislation in England and Wales in 2017, 107 convictions in 2018 and 52 convictions in 2019. These included convictions related to nitrous oxide. It is not an offence to be in possession of laughing gas.

Cllr Bailey’s letter was passed to Policing Minister Kit Malthouse who responded to say legal measures are in place to tackle sales made for recreational use and there are penalties for littering that can be used by councils against those dumping canisters.

Cllr Bailey said: “The purveyors of these canisters must recognise that their sales have gone up exponentially and that it must be for nefarious reasons.

“There needs to be a targeted public awareness campaign and stricter prosecutions for those selling these canisters for recreational use.

“It is fine to say that the local authority bears the responsibility for clearing up the resultant litter and issuing on the spot fines but this is something that should be stopped at source and the only way to do that is  through restricting the sales and coming down hard on those exploiting youngsters in this way.”

Last year at the Royal College of Nursing annual congress a call was made for an awareness campaign of the dangers associated with laughing gas. A petition has also recently been raised asking for a ban on the sale of nitrous oxide to the general public.

Find the petition here


  1. Same problem where I live in Ramsgate picked up over 60 of them in just under a week. On a small area around my property with balloons as well. Even under car wheels they say laughing gas but the youngest using them get quite aggressive on them they get verbally abusive as well so I can’t see how they call it laughing gas

  2. Well done to Ruth Brackstone Bailey, just shows what a truly independent councillor can achieve when free from party politics and only interested in the good of her home town.

  3. This explains things….” The UK government is moving to ban the sale of nitrous oxide to clubbers and partygoers because of its dangers, but some users are protesting that the move is unfair. Exactly how dangerous is the gas?
    Empty silver canisters of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, have become a common sight outside clubs across the UK. Last July, more than 1,200 were reported to have been confiscated on just one Saturday night in London’s Shoreditch.
    The anaesthetic gas is still used for pain relief during dentistry and childbirth but outside of that legitimate arena there has been a legal grey area for years. It’s already illegal to sell to under-18s if there is a risk they will inhale it. But it remains easy for adults to buy.
    Mainstream online vendors advertise the product, although usually indicating that it is to be used for the production of whipped cream. The product reviews usually suggest otherwise. One reads: “Quality product, I ordered on a Friday and chargers were meant to come on Tuesday but arrived on the next day, good laugh with mates at a festival… er, I mean in the kitchen whipping cream.”
    Now the UK government plans to include nitrous oxide in a bill which will make it illegal to sell “psychoactive substances”. Possession – with no intent to supply – and use will remain legal.
    “Young people who take these substances are taking exceptional risks with their health and those who profit from their sale have a complete disregard for the potential consequences,” said crime and policing minister Mike Penning.
    But some argue that the ban is unfair. On Saturday, protesters from the Psychedelic Society pressure group will inhale laughing gas outside Parliament.
    “It’s not the business of government to tell people what they can and can’t use,” says director Stephen Reid. “Nitrous oxide has been used for literally hundreds of years in this country without any problems.”
    It was discovered in 1772 by British scientist Joseph Priestley and within 30 years the chemist Humphry Davy was using it recreationally.
    Davy began inviting his friends round to inhale the gas from oiled silk bags and in doing so started a craze. “The nitrous oxyd [sic], or laughing gas was inhaled by a gentleman who after laughing sprung up in the air to the astonishing height of six feet from the ground,” wrote a correspondent in the Times in 1819, describing a popular stage show.
    Humphry Davy”

  4. Gas canisters are everywhere and the balloons…..invest your money in whipped cream cannisters the manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank, they must be fully aware the increase in sales are due to inadequate jelly heads dosing themselves up on it…..put something else inside like helium gas, then their voices will squeak..

  5. Hah! Just found an answer to my own question.. it’s because nitrous oxides stops the cream going rancid. It does this by *killing* bacteria! If it does that then it probably doesn’t do anyone who inhaled large amounts much good either! Oxygen can’t be used, or just air, because it would cause the cream to go off faster and importantly it also gives considerably less ‘fluff’ to the cream.

  6. Lots round where I live even the balloons pick total of 60 canisters in 3 days. I can’t understand how they say it’s laughing gas when the people taking it are aggressive and fouled mouthed and tried to cause fights with each other. There are even just walking along the streets with a balloons attached to their face so it’s the everyday normal

  7. She found 200 laughing gas canisters, at Viking Bay

    As Cilla Black would say “that’s a lorra larfs”

  8. Time to change the law I think, make it illigal to sell it to under 21 year olds and fine any retailers selling to under age yobs.

    • It’s sold online, for making whipped cream. You have to state that you are a chef, or food preparation on some industrial scale, and they will sell you hundreds or thousands.

Comments are closed.