YouTube and other web giants must do more to protect young people from the party drug laughing gas, UK councils have said, in a warning over internet clips which they said “glamorise” drug use.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said YouTube had a responsibility to add safety warnings to any video which showed people, in particular children, abusing the drug.
Councillors are also concerned that Facebook and Twitter are being used to openly advertise to-your-door delivery of laughing gas – which is illegal to sell for recreational use.
The LGA said that web giants could not “sit on their hands and ignore what is happening on their own sites”.
Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, was used recreationally by 470,000 young people last yea,r according to Government figures. In medical settings, particularly dentist surgeries, it is used to numb pain but its recreational use is on the rise.
It is usually sold in canisters and inhaled from balloons and causes a brief euphoric high.
However, the LGA said that used recreationally it could be a lethal drug – citing recent deaths which had been linked to laughing gas. Most users suffer few ill effects but in rare cases it can cause dangerous oxygen deprivation and there are also concerns that it is sometimes being sold mixed or replaced entirely with more dangerous gases.
Local authorities have reported seizing large hauls of laughing gas canisters in recent months. In east London, Hackney Council reported that 1,200 canisters had been seized in just one night last month, outside the pubs and clubs of Shoreditch.
Councillor Katie Hall, chair of the LGA’s community and wellbeing board said it was “deeply disturbing” the drug was still “widely viewed as safe”.
“It is imperative that users understand just how harmful it can be,” she said. “This gas can kill – and much more needs to be done to get this message across.”
“We are particularly concerned about internet pages and uploaded clips which are effectively 'promoting’ this as a harmless drug. The web giants must do more to crack down on this – they cannot simply sit on their hands and ignore what is happening on their own sites.
“We are calling on the big internet corporations to step up to the plate and show responsibility by providing health warnings and links to drug awareness charities. It is wholly unacceptable that this craze is being glamorised and encouraged in this way.”
Earlier this year a French court said that asphyxiation through the use of nitrous oxide had caused the death of 21-year-old British chef Jordan Guise.
Another young British man, Joseph Bennett, 17, died in 2012 after inhaling a mixture of butane and pentane gas from a canister which he thought contained laughing gas.
Basak Tas, a drugs researcher and advisor at the charity Release said there was little available information or research on the toxicity of nitrous oxide in recreational use.
“Most people who take it have no problems, but as with all inhaled substances if you have an underlying respiratory or cardiac problems there is more reason to be concerned,” she said. “The problem we have with these so-called 'legal highs' is that we don’t always know what’s in the substance – people take things in the belief that it is a particular drug, when in fact it can be another, or many other different drugs.”