Sale of lighter fuel banned for under-18s

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The Independent Online
THE SALE of gas lighter fuel to under-18s will be banned, following a spate of deaths caused by young people sniffing butane. George Howarth, the Home Office minister, will announce this week that the Government intends to make it illegal for shopkeepers to sell the refills to youngsters.

Trading standards officers will be given additional powers to prosecute retailers who ignore the new measure. Young people who want to buy gas lighter fuel would have to provide identification documents showing they are over 18.

The move follows a Government consultation exercise which found more than half of deaths from solvent abuse involved lighter fuel. A trend for sniffing the gas - which has a similar effect to inhaling glue - is particularly prevalent among 16- to 18-year-olds and increasingly involves girls.

A total of 339 people have been killed by solvent abuse over the last five years, around two-thirds children. There has been an increase in the problem over the past two years, with the number of deaths rising by 13 per cent last year alone, most linked to gas lighter fuel.

Ministers were deeply concerned to discover the butane refills are often used by children who have no previous experience of drugs and can lead to the abuse of harder substances. They are also worried about the number of crimes being committed by young people high on solvents. Warren Hawksley, chairman of the pressure group Re-Solv, welcomed the lighter fuel ban. "This product is very dangerous," he said. "More than 50 per cent of deaths from solvent abuse are caused by it and 38 per cent of those who died had no known previous history of abuse. The Government is right to ban its sale to under-18s."

The existing law makes it an offence to sell glue or lighter fuel, knowing that it will be abused, but it is extremely difficult to get convictions on this basis.

The Government recently announced tough targets for reducing drug abuse, as part of a 10-year strategy for tackling the problem, drawn up by Keith Hellawell, the so called "drugs tsar".

Ministers pledged to cut the number of people under 25 using drugs and to tackle the problem of reoffending. Courts will be encouraged to send drug users to rehabilitation centres, rather than jail, where many addicts move onto harder substances.

But Jack Cunningham, the Cabinet Office minister who is responsible for drugs policy, has admitted that the Government was fighting a losing battle against a growing tide of heroin abuse and drug-related crime.