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Review concludes Nitrous Oxide sales now illegal

Review concludes Nitrous Oxide sales now illegal

Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton says following a legal review, authorities will now be warning individuals it is illegal to sell and buy nitrous oxide to inhale.

Mr Anderton said the latest advice concludes there is a basis for enforcement action to be taken against those selling nitrous oxide or possessing it. This advice looked at alternative legal remedies under the Medicines Act t oremedies previously considered but rejected.

Nitrous oxide is a prescription medicine, and under the Medicines Act it is illegal to sell prescription medicines without a prescription from a health professional. To do so would be an offence which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a $1000 fine. There is also an offence to possess prescription medicines without reasonable excuse (penalty is three months in prison or $500 fine).

Mr Anderton said that because this is new advice, it is probably unfair to immediately begin to prosecute those who would now be considered to be acting illegally, but who prior to this were unaware that they were acting illegally. This is why it would be expected that Police and health enforcement officials would initially be giving out warnings, and no doubt there will be an appropriate time from which prosecutions would begin should illegal sales continue.

Mr Anderton said that there would continue to be legitimate uses for nitrous oxide such as a fuel for high performance engines in drag racing and also as a propellant in manufactured foods like whipped cream.

He said obviously police and health officials would use their discretion in applying the law, but as a safeguard the Government would be moving to make regulations under the Medicines Act so that these legitimate used would be able to continue. None of these legitimate uses involve inhaling nitrous oxide.

He said that there were some obvious dangers associated with misuse of nitrous oxide. There included: - harm to lungs from inhalation - freeze burns to lips from inhaling nitrous oxide directly from the nozzle of dispensers - anaesthesia (falling asleep - which can be deadly if driving) - losing consciousness and collapsing - choking on vomit while unconscious.

Mr Anderton said that he had tremendous sympathy for parents who were concerned at retailers currently selling nitrous oxide in balloons solely for the purpose of inhaling the gas. This new interpretation of the law, menas we ca move to put an end to inhaling nitrous oxide where it has not been prescribed for use by a health professional.

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