Shops face closure by Tower Hamlets Council for selling ‘laughing gas’ illegally
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Police are making sweeps on council estates in east London to stop gangs hanging around using ‘laughing gas’ to get their kicks.
They are targeting youths gathering on Tower Hamlets Homes estates to use canisters of nitrous oxide bought illegally from shops.
Schoolchildren are being told in a campaign about health risk and drivers being warned they face bans if caught using the canisters behind the wheel, while Tower Hamlets council is threatening to close any shops selling them for personal use.
Discarded canisters were fund under bushes in one sweep at Bethnal Green’s Twig Folly Close development by the Grand Union Canal, witnessed by the East London Advertiser.
“We will be taking enforcement action with traders selling nitrous oxide,” the Met’s borough commander Sue Williams warned.
“We will also deal with those who use nitrous oxide while driving who will be prosecuted, which could mean disqualification.”
The immam of Bethnal Green’s Globe Town mosque, Jayna Abtin, who was invited on the police sweep, spotted the gas canisters in the bushes at Twig Folly Close.
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He said: “These canisters have a bad effect on young people. We have to alert our people.”
The practice is also known on the street as ‘ballooning’, as the canisters are used legally to inflate balloons.
One of the officers on the sweep at Twig Folly Close, Pc Chris Stammers, told the Advertiser: “Drivers pull up on estates out of the way to use the gas which can’t be traced in a drugs test.
“The canisters are not illegal to possess, except someone caught with several who can be arrested for possession with intent to supply.”
The campaign, tagged ‘No Laughing Matter’, follows complaints of intimidation caused by noise and litter nuisance.
The council is paying for 14 new police recruits to begin patrolling the estates next month.
Mayor John Biggs said: “We are taking action against those selling the gas and are educating the public about its dangers. Nitrous oxide is linked to anti-social behaviour.”
The joint operation with the police is targeting shops known to be selling nitrous oxide to youngsters and aims to close them down under trading standards regulations.
Tower Hamlets Homes chief executive Susmita Sen said: “Drug abuse is a blight on our estates. Our residents frequently suffer intimidating behaviour, noise nuisance and littering by groups congregating to use nitrous oxide.”
One reported incident was two men spotted in a Ranger Rover inhaling from balloons in a car-park on Bethnal Green’s Granby Street Estate who then dumped the spent canisters and drove off.
The men were stopped by police in Bethnal Green Road and questioned, but did not appear to be under the influence of the gas and were allowed to go, the Advertiser later learned.
Nitrous oxide, previously sold as a ‘legal high’, is now illegal to supply or import for personal use. It is normally used as pain relief by dentists—but can affect judgement and have long-term effects if mis-used.