Using laughing gas in public is banned in the East End

Police patrol picks up discarded gas canisters during a sweep for weapons along Bethnal Green's Roman Road.

Police patrol picks up discarded gas canisters during a sweep for weapons along Bethnal Green's Roman Road. - Credit: Mike Brooke

A sweeping ban has been put in place across the whole East End to stop people using laughing gas on the streets for kicks.  

A public spaces protection order on the use of nitrous oxide has been brought in by Tower Hamlets Council, which means police can now arrest anyone misusing it and disrupting peaceful neighbourhoods. 

It is now an offence to use nitrous oxide psychoactive substance and engage in antisocial activity including littering the streets with empty canisters. 

Stepney householder Jonathan Moberly (left) joins deputy mayor and mayor at antisocial hotspot in Arbour Square

Stepney householder Jonathan Moberly (left) joins deputy mayor and mayor at antisocial hotspot in Arbour Square to launch protection order - Credit: LBTH

Breathing in laughing gas, although dangerous if mixed with alcohol, isn't illegal.

But what gets up the nose of the authorities is disturbing neighbourhoods and the litter of empty two ins gas canisters dumped at the kerb. Those caught using nitrous oxide face £100 on-the-spot fines or risk a court summons and a £1,000 fine.

“Using this substance can be harmful,” mayor John Biggs warned. “People taking ‘laughing gas’ leave a mess of canisters making areas untidy, so we are committed to taking action against those who have a negative impact on people’s lives.” 

The prevention order takes in almost all of the E1, E2, E3 and E14 postal districts, rather than just specified hotspots like two previous orders. 

Empty laughing gas canisters litter the streets of Stepney 

Empty laughing gas canisters litter the streets of Stepney - Credit: Mike Brooke

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The move follows the council’s No Laughing Matter campaign to stop shops selling laughing gas and those misusing it.

Public consultations were initially sparked by families in Stepney who complained of drug dealing and antisocial behaviour around Arbour Square at the beginning of the first lockdown in March last year. 

Families told the East London Advertiser at the time that cars turn up at night to take advantage of the empty streets to deal drugs and get kicks from laughing gas before dumping the empty canisters on their doorstep.

The council uses CCTV to identify problem hotspots where enforcement officers can now be deployed. But there was no camera covering Arbour Square, the families pointed out.  

Campaigners deliver petition to town hall in 2018 for action to sweep drug dealers from Whitechapel.

Campaigners deliver petition to town hall in 2018 for action to sweep drug dealers from Whitechapel. - Credit: Mike Brooke

Just a mile away, households in Whitechapel sent a petition to the town hall in 2018 calling for action to clean up the area. 

The problem, however, wasn't new. Police in Spitalfields seized 900 canisters of gas in 2014 in raids on illegal street trading along Brick Lane.  

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